PHOENIX — Wilson Ramos reached down across home plate and flicked his black bat as if it were a twig. The Washington Nationals catcher then dropped the piece of wood once he connected on Robbie Ray’s 85-mph slider and admired the blast it produced as he coolly walked five steps out of the batter’s box before beginning his trot. Ray, once a prized Nationals prospect, turned around, looked up at the ball sailing up toward Chase Field’s roof, and nearly dropped to one knee in disappointment.
The ball landed over the wall in left field, a three-run shot in the fifth inning of the Nationals’ 10-4 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks. One pitch later, Chris Heisey rocketed a liner over the same wall. Two pitches, four runs, and Ray’s outing — impressive up to that point — was ruined.
The damage was made possible by a single from Daniel Murphy and a walk to Anthony Rendon, both coming with two outs. Then Ramos tied his career high with his 16th home run, continuing his breakout season as baseball’s best offensive catcher, and Heisey gave the Nationals their 13th back-to-back home run sequence.
“I’m telling you, Ramos has been a godsend,” Nationals Manager Dusty Baker said. “He feels good about himself and I can’t imagine not having Ramos because he’s figured it out.”
A day after scoring a season-high 14 runs on a season-high 19 hits without a home run, the Nationals (63-44) reverted to their usual form to deliver another thrashing of the National League West’s worst club. The NL team leader in home runs unleashed three Tuesday. Jayson Werth added the final tally, a screamer off Randall Delgado that bounced off the top of the wall in left field to lead off the seventh. Werth finished 3 for 5 to extend his on-base streak to 35 games. He is one game shy of tying the league-high 36-game streak Miami Marlins outfielder Marcell Ozuna set earlier this season.
The Nationals concluded their second drubbing in the desert by manufacturing three runs with five singles in the eighth inning off Daniel Hudson. Wilmer Difo singled, stole second base, and scored in the frame to complete a 3-for-5 night and the first multi-hit game of his career after being notified that he was in the starting lineup minutes before the game. Defensively, he displayed his expansive range at second base. The most important play came in the first inning when the Diamondbacks had the bases loaded and he dove to his left to stop a groundball and initiate an impressive double play. A run scored on the play, but it was Arizona’s only one of the inning.
“I was playing a little to the pull side, and I was trying to make sure I got at least one out,” said Difo, who hadn’t played at second since spring training. “And obviously it happened that way.”
The glove work and run barrage came in support of Tanner Roark, who wasn’t at his best but still managed to register, by definition, another quality start. The right-hander threw 103 pitches and yielded three runs on seven hits over 61/3 innings. Blake Treinin replaced Roark, who earned his 11th win, with one out and a man on second in the seventh inning, and stranded the runner.
“The guy got some big . . . you know . . . some, uh, some guts,” Baker said of Roark before the game.
The Nationals slugged their way to victory without Bryce Harper. The right fielder appeared in the original starting nine the Nationals posted, in his usual spots — batting third and playing right field. But 60 minutes before first pitch, the club announced a new lineup without Harper and said he was scratched because of illness. Baker said reliever Sammy Solis was also sick. Harper and Solis are the latest Nationals to battle sickness in recent weeks.
“We’ve kind of a sick ward here in the last couple weeks,” Baker said. “I don’t know who the carrier is but i’m hoping whoever he is, he’s well and it can end right here.”
Heisey, initially slated to play center, replaced Harper in right and Trea Turner shifted from second base to center. Difo made his third career start at second. Harper joined fellow starter Ryan Zimmerman on the bench. The first baseman was hit by a pitch on his left wrist in San Francisco on Sunday and didn’t play in Washington’s 14-1 win over the Diamondbacks on Monday. Baker said Zimmerman could be available as a defensive replacement late in the game — he took groundballs during batting practice — but his services weren’t required.
“It’s sore,” Baker said. “And we just thought it would be best to wait another day.”
Zimmerman has struggled this season, but he’s a right-handed hitter the Nationals could’ve used as an advantageous matchup against Ray, a left-hander, in the early going. For 42/3 innings, the 24-year-old Ray exhibited the talent that made him one of the Nationals’ top 10 prospects before they included him as part of the package sent to the Detroit Tigers in exchange for Doug Fister in December 2013.
He had allowed two runs and compiled eight strikeouts before scuffling in a middle inning like he often has this season. He regrouped to retire the side in the sixth inning, but the damage was complete and another rout was on. It began with Ramos hunting for a slider from Ray — the same one he had struck out on his previous at-bat — and it ended with a scare: one out from victory, Welington Castillo fouled a pitch that appeared to strike Ramos in the neck area and he went down on one knee.
The situation prompted Baker to come out of the dugout. He realized Ramos wasn’t hurt and was reaching down under his chest protector in search of something. Baker thought the ball was down there. It wasn’t. Ramos’s thick chain had broken and he was trying to take it off.
“He pulled out some gold,” Baker said.