DENVER — The Washington Nationals walked into Coors Field on Tuesday afternoon with a sputtering lineup, and they walked out Wednesday night with an offensive juggernaut and the best record in the National League. Over the past two nights, they unburdened themselves of all the runs they had been carrying around all year. They had saved them up, it turns out, for a pitching staff in disarray and a generous stadium.
The Nationals stripped the Colorado Rockies and sold them for parts in an 11-5 demolition, the first time since late September 2005 the club scored at least 11 runs in consecutive games. The Nationals’ fill-in first baseman may have put the minor leagues in his rear-view, their shortstop made a final all-star push and their third baseman continued to shed his imposter act.
Tyler Moore, Ian Desmond and Ryan Zimmerman all hit home runs. Six Nationals swatted multiple hits, including Bryce Harper, who turned a bloop into a double. After four innings, the Nationals held a 9-1 lead.
“I don’t think anybody is really searching for confidence,” Desmond said. “We know we can play. We’re in first place. We were in first place all year long. It’s nice to see the bats turning around.”
Washington battered five Rockies pitchers, starting with Edwar Cabrera, a 24-year-old left-hander summoned from Class AA to make his major league debut. It was a short and brutal beginning. Cabrera faced 15 hitters. Seven of them mashed a hit and three socked a home run. After 21 / 3 innings, he was finished.
The Nationals’ latest outburst helped a surprise benefactor. Jordan Zimmermann entered Wednesday night with near-criminal run support. The Nationals had scored 3.1 runs per start while he was in the game, fifth-fewest in the National League. As a result, Zimmermann had a sparkling 2.89 ERA — which he lowered Wednesday to 2.77 — but an ugly 3-6 record.
“It’s nice,” Zimmermann said. “You’ve got a lot of room to breathe.”
Staked to a lead, Zimmermann did the same thing he does when the Nationals neglect him: He peppered the strike zone and worked deep into the night. Zimmermann allowed one run in seven innings. He has pitched at least six innings in all 15 of his starts, and he has not yielded more than four earned runs in any of them.
“He’s not underrated by us or the league,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “He’s a man out there.”
The game turned into a rout because of Moore, the 25-year-old thumper from Brandon, Miss., who has established himself as a bat the Nationals need in their lineup. In the second, he came to bat with the Nationals leading 1-0 and Mark DeRosa on first base after a walk. Cabrera fed Moore a 1-0 fastball, and he mashed it to center field. The ball tore through the thin air and landed over the fence, putting the Nationals ahead 3-0.
Moore would add a double and a single and finish his night 3 for 5. Since the Nationals recalled him from Class AAA Syracuse on June 7, he has gone 15 for 33 (.455) with three doubles, four homers and six walks.
Desmond described Moore as “not too cerebral as a hitter,” and he meant it as a compliment. Moore clears his mind when he hits and tries to keep his swing as short as he can. Desmond said the approach may have rubbed off on others.
“I’m completely see-ball, hit-ball,” Moore said. “I’m not up there trying to think about a curveball or anything like that. If you dumb it down for me, I’ll be at my best.”
Wednesday evening, Johnson explained he had kept LaRoche out of the lineup to give DeRosa a start in left field. He never mentioned moving Moore to first, as if keeping him in the lineup was a given.
“Right now, I’m going to let him stay pretty much in the lineup,” Johnson said afterward. “It depends on what some other guys do with their offense. But he’s certainly a good weapon to have in the lineup all the time.”
Zimmerman and Desmond helped make the game a laugher in the four-run third inning, each crushing a home run. They would both add doubles, too, continuing their combined assault on the Rockies. Zimmerman has four extra-base hits over the past two games, and Desmond has five.
The difference is, Zimmerman has only started to find his form, and Desmond has been breaking out all season. In the four games since Zimmerman received a cortisone shot to relieve inflammation in his right shoulder, he has gone 8 for 17 with two homers and three doubles.
Desmond, among a season packed with injuries and slumps for the Nationals’ offense, has been the team’s biggest constant. He’s hitting .274, and he ranks second among National League shortstops with 12 home runs and first with 21 doubles. He has appeared in 71 of 72 games, playing consistent and flashy defense.
“I voted for him,” for the all-star team, Johnson said. “I don’t know any shortstop I’d trade [him for].”