Acquiring An Understanding
Through the first 23 games of the season, Nationals fans had caught glimpses of the reasons Mike Rizzo pulled the trigger on his three major offseason acquisitions, Dan Haren, Rafael Soriano and Denard Span. But although Haren earned his first Nationals win on April 11, Soriano had converted six of seven save opportunities and Span had shown an early propensity to get on base, none of the three had turned in a starring performance.
That all changed Saturday afternoon, as 38,903 red-adorned fans were treated to a beautiful day of baseball loaded with great pitching, clutch hitting and a pair of spectacular defensive plays.
Haren turned in his strongest start to date, in which he was largely dominant over six solid innings, striking out five Cincinnati batters without a walk. Soriano slammed the door shut on the Reds hopes, fanning two of the three batters he faced in a 1-2-3 ninth. But Span stole the show, leaping into the left-center field wall to rob Joey Votto of extra bases in the sixth, then ranging far to his right to corral a line drive off the bat of Zack Cozart with the bases loaded and two outs in the seventh, one that looked like it might very well erase Washington’s three-run advantage.
“I got great jumps on both of those balls,” said Span after the game. “The Cozart ball, that was my favorite out of the two today. It’s just fun for me to be able to go out there and show my speed and grab my ball like that in the gap.”
Haren and Span also got the scoring started, each placing two-out, RBI-singles between the Cincinnati defense in consecutive at-bats in the second inning.
With impressive performances all around by the newcomers, one could be forgiven for forgetting Bryce Harper’s team record ninth April home run, which also gave him the franchise mark for RBI (18) in the season’s opening month. And while all that may not have added up to anything nearly as historical as what happened in the first two games of the series, it was a recipe for success in one of the most complete games the Nationals have played so far this year.
“I was kind of disappointed when I gave up the second hit today,” joked Haren about having to follow back-to-back one-hitters as he improved his home record to 2-1 this year. “I finally feel like part of the team. I’ve got to be like this or better the rest of the year.”
If Haren can replicate Saturday’s success on the mound and Span can do the same in the field, Soriano will have that many more opportunities to untuck his jersey after he puts opposing lineups down for the count.