Results tagged ‘ Danny Espinosa ’

Daily Wrap: Nationals top Tigers, Strasburg reacts to Opening Day nod & more

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by Amanda Comak

VIERA, Fla. — Thursday afternoon started with a tremendous pitching match-up: Washington Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg vs. reigning American League Cy Young winner Max Scherzer.

It ended with the Nationals taking home an 8-1 victory in which Strasburg continued his stellar spring and the Nationals’ offense rapped out five runs off seven hits against Scherzer — including a long home run to left center field by shortstop Ian Desmond.

Player of the Day: Second baseman Danny Espinosa

Washington Nationals v New York YankeesThere were plenty of candidates for the “Player of the Day” on Thursday. Jayson Werth went 2-for-3 with a double, Ryan Zimmerman smacked a triple and Desmond crushed his third home run of the spring. But the honor goes to second baseman Danny Espinosa.

Espinosa, who went 1-for-3 with a base hit, scored the Nationals’ first run of the day and played stellar defensively.

In the first inning — moments after an uncharacteristic fielding error by Denard Span allowed Ian Kinsler to reach base — Espinosa snared a high feed from Desmond on a Tyler Collins grounder. With Kinsler bearing down on him at second, Espinosa still managed to zip off a strong throw to Adam LaRoche at first to complete the double play.

An inning that opened with a baserunner off Strasburg soon turned into a frame in which the right-hander faced the minimum.

It was a day that continued the positive impression Espinosa has been making on manager Matt Williams this spring.

“(His approach has been) fantastic,” Williams said. “He’s eager to play every day, and it’s really hard to get him out of a ballgame, which is a very good trait to have. The numbers are misleading both ways in Spring Training and I’m encouraged by the way he’s going about it. It’s really good.

“I’m pleased with his approach, I’m pleased with his work ethic every day and the way he’s going about his approach within the game. Sometimes they fall, sometimes they don’t, sometimes you swing and miss. But as long as he’s going about it the right way, I think he’ll be just fine.”

Quote of the Day: Stephen Strasburg on earning his third straight Opening Day start

Williams announced Wednesday night that Strasburg would take the ball for the Nationals on Opening Day in New York. Strasburg was honored by the decision, but admitted he has bigger goals.

050412-197 stephen strasburg“I hope my career isn’t just a reflection of how many Opening Day starts I have,” he said after tossing five scoreless innings against the Detroit Tigers to bring his spring ERA to 0.64. “There are a lot of guys in this rotation who deserve it and I’m just the first one out. I think every game is going to be just as important.

“The biggest goal as a team is that we’re playing in the playoffs, and I want to focus on trying to make starts in the playoffs more so than just an Opening Day start.”

Video highlights: Did you miss any of the Nationals’ feature on MLB Network’s 30 clubs in 30 days? Catch up with all of the highlights right here.


The Nationals trimmed their roster to 36 players in Major League camp on Thursday, optioning right-hander Ross Ohlendorf, catcher Jhonatan Solano, infielder Zach Walters and right-hander Christian Garcia to Triple-A Syracuse, along with reassigning right-hander Manny Delcarmen, first baseman Brock Peterson and infielder Will Rhymes to Minor League camp… The Nationals have just two games left at Space Coast Stadium this spring, playing Saturday against the Miami Marlins and Tuesday against the New York Mets… The team will finish the Grapefruit League slate with two road games, in Jupiter, Fla., and St. Lucie, Fla., against the St. Louis Cardinals and Mets, respectively, before heading north to face the Tigers in an exhibition game at Nationals Park on March 29.

From the Desk of Mark D. Lerner: Checking in from Spring Training

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Hello, everyone.

Let me start by stating that things could not be better here in Viera. The weather is wonderful, the workouts are crisp and the results have been encouraging. Yes, a team’s Grapefruit League winning percentage can, at times, be misleading, but winning games is always better than the alternative.

Ian Desmond is off to a strong start this spring.

Ian Desmond is off to a strong start this spring.

Seven wins, four losses and a tie. But what is most encouraging is how Manager Matt Williams has them playing the game. I love the aggressive base running. Taking an extra base. How fantastic was it to see Danny Espinosa score from second base on Saturday on a dribbler back to the pitcher? This brand of baseball really is infectious.

Fifteen home runs in 12 games. Only five allowed. That’s a good ratio.

Strong offensive starts from stalwarts like Ian Desmond (.286, 2 HR, 3 RBI), Adam LaRoche (2 HR, 4 RBI), Wilson Ramos (.474, HR, 10 RBI) and Ryan Zimmerman (.389, HR, 2 RBI) among others.

And many of our young players are making their marks. Zach Walters is hitting .615 with four extra-base hits and five RBI. He is as hot as anyone. Brian Goodwin and Michael A. Taylor have each made memorable catches in the outfield. Matt Skole hit .357 and four of his five hits went for extra bases before he was assigned to Minor League camp earlier this week so that he can get additional at-bats.

  • I have not even mentioned the pitching. There truly are too many to name, but I’ll risk mentioning three standouts: Taylor Jordan (team-leading 11 strikeouts), Jerry Blevins (3.2 hitless innings) and A.J. Cole (6.2 scoreless innings).

    Taylor Jordan has performed exceptionally well in his first Major League camp.

    Taylor Jordan has performed exceptionally well in his first Major League camp.

  • Forgive me if I think it is 2005 all over again watching Jamey Carroll and Luis Ayala perform admirably as they battle for roster spots. Jamey’s approach at the plate (.333 OBP), base running and defensive versatility are all a real plus. Meanwhile, Luis can throw a strike whenever he needs to. He has that same veteran savvy gene our friend Livan Hernandez had during his playing days.
  • And Matt Williams? What’s not to like? Crisp, precise and purposeful baseball usually yields wins. I love what Matt brings to our dugout and clubhouse. I especially like how our team has taken to his aggressive nature.
  • I was pleased to see President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo sign Michael Gonzalez to a Minor League deal last weekend. Gonzalez was a big part of our bullpen’s success in 2012 and there are very few southpaw relievers who can match his experience in tight situations. Welcome back Michael!
  • I just counted. Only three of the club’s 18 errors have been committed by players who were “regulars” in Washington last season. And one of those miscues was charged to Mr. Perfect, Denard Span! Remember, Denard did not commit an error last season. As I have said before, he should have won a Gold Glove!
  • I’d like to thank all of our fans in Central Florida, but especially those from our local area on the Space Coast (Viera, Melbourne and Rockledge). The crowds for the Cardinals and Yankees games in the last week were the two largest we have ever enjoyed hosting.
  • As for our fans from back home, I’ve had quite a few friends remark upon arrival in Viera about the significant pockets of Nationals fans on their flights from DC to Orlando. It’s hard to ignore all the smiles and Curly W shirts, sweaters and hats. It is great to see so many of our fans catching on to just how special Spring Training is.

Until next time …


Highlights from the Nationals’ 11-1 win over the Cardinals

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by Amanda Comak

VIERA, Fla. — On a sun-splashed afternoon at Space Coast Stadium, Stephen Strasburg went three strong innings, the Washington Nationals rapped out 15 hits, and they topped the St. Louis Cardinals 11-1.

Strasburg was pleased with his work for the day, feeling strong when his requisite three innings were up and happy with the adjustments he made after being a bit too fine with his pitches in the first inning.

“Got some good work in,” Strasburg said. “I felt a little too good in the bullpen and tried to paint from the first pitch on instead of starting out with a little bit bigger zone, and then working off of the middle of the plate. Made a good adjustment and didn’t really see any problems.”

As a staff, Nationals pitchers allowed just three hits on the day. Eleven different position players picked up a hit, four of them (Anthony Rendon, Wilson Ramos, Danny Espinosa and Tyler Moore) had multi-hit days, and eight different players knocked in at least one run.

Catch up on some of the highlights right here:

From the Desk of Mark D. Lerner: Hello from Viera

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Hello, everyone.

Greetings from sunny Space Coast Stadium, where the weather started so-so, but spring suddenly arrived on Sunday. We are currently enjoying a gentle breeze and temperatures in the high 70’s. Perfect. I am also glad to read that things are warming up back in DC after a prolonged spate of snowy and cold weather. Sounds like spring is genuinely in the air!

Bryce Harper in the batting cage. (Photo credit: Donald Miralle)

Bryce Harper in the batting cage. (Photo credit: Donald Miralle)

Matt Williams’ first spring camp is already well underway. Pitchers have already been through two or three bullpen sessions and, yes, everyone looks great. I’ll get to that in a moment.

What has impressed me the most is just how many position players reported for duty early. With few exceptions, we have enjoyed full position-player batting practice sessions each of the last three days. So many that we have had to split the BP session over two fields.

Ryan Zimmerman in the cage. Adam LaRoche scooping balls at first base. Ian Desmond working the pivot with Anthony Rendon, Danny Espinosa, Jamey Carroll and Mike Fontenot. Nate McLouth working on his jumps in the outfield. All sights to behold.

  • Camp Williams is crisp, precise, upbeat and full of hustle. With that said, there have been a good number of competitive moments built in that have seized the pitchers’ attention. For example, every team has pitcher-bunting drills. However, here in Viera, pitchers and fans alike have enjoyed a competitive tweak as the pitcher attempt to bunt balls into a pair of strategically-placed ball bags. These competitive drills have resulted in good-natured hooting, hollering and trash talking. But they also demand concentration that at least partially mimics a real game.
  • Sunday morning's first bullpen session featured two decent right-handers...

    Sunday morning’s first bullpen session featured two decent right-handers.

    Nothing new here, but Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann all look fantastic. And I have a suspicion that Doug Fister is really going to have a positive influence on the others. First of all, Fister is an accomplished pitcher in his own right. He won 32 games in two-plus seasons with the Tigers. And, he’s been a part of another vaunted pitching staff. Doug has pitched in a World Series. He watched the likes of Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer win Cy Young awards. There is value in that, and I doubt that it is a coincidence that his locker is located next to/near Stephen, Gio and Jordan.

  • Lots of emphasis on defense and defensive fundamentals. It was also interesting to see that Matt has some of his pitchers moonlighting at different positions during some bunt plays. There is a belief that the multi-position perspective will help fine tune the execution. At the very least, it’ll give our pitcher’s some perspective they may not have experienced since their days playing prep baseball.
  • Incidentally, Livan Hernandez used to work out almost daily at shortstop and he was the best fielding pitcher I have ever seen. I cannot express how fantastic it is to have Livan on hand as a coach. The players are really enjoying his presence and he is a heck of a teacher. Livan is a true gem who has a fantastic feel for our fans and for baseball in DC.
  • I was talking to some of our player development folks and there is great enthusiasm for the projected rosters/lineups/rotations in Triple-A Syracuse and Double-A Harrisburg. It is too early to know where various players will be assigned, but there are very real layers of talent in the upper reaches of our system that will be inevitably be called upon as the season progresses. The Opening Day 25 is important, but it is really only a fleeting glimpse of the talent assembled.
  • There are ex-Expos everywhere you look around camp: Luis Ayala, Jamey Carroll, Ian Desmond (last player left who was drafted by the Expos), Randy Knorr and Bob Henley. Ayala and Carroll were inaugural-season Nationals.
  • Matt Williams’ coaching staff is filled with a lot of former catchers, which is never a bad thing. Randy Knorr, Bob Henley and Matt LeCroy. Those catchers understand the game from all angles.
  • Rafael Soriano looks good. And so do his pitches. I think there is a certain comfort that comes with a second season.
  • The local DC media has descended upon Viera this week. (Photo credit: Kyle Brostowitz)

    The local DC media has descended upon Viera this week. (Photo credit: Kyle Brostowitz)

    The local DC television media has descended upon Viera, so be sure to tune into all the local channels for in-depth interviews with Matt Williams and all of your favorite Nationals. Earlier today, we hosted ESPN and the Baseball Tonight Bus at Space Coast Stadium. Karl Ravech and Tim Kurkjian were on hand. Both are great ambassadors for their network and the game of baseball. Matt Williams and Bryce Harper were their main guests, so you will be seeing both on SportsCenter tonight.

  • Little more than a week until our Grapefruit League opener (Fri., Feb. 28 at Mets) and our Grapefruit League home opener (Sat., March 1 vs.  Braves). There is still plenty of time to plan a great family trip for Spring Training baseball in Viera. At the risk of dating myself, I still remember childhood trips to Pompano Beach to see the likes of Mike Epstein, Frank Howard, Eddie Brinkman and all of the old Senators. Great memories.
  • If you do make it down to Space Coast Stadium for a visit, please don’t hesitate to stop me and say ‘Hello.’ Our fans’ enthusiasm and spirit are infectious and I am always impressed with everyone’s knowledge of not only the Nationals, but baseball in general. Isn’t this the best time of year? Well, outside of a busy October I suppose.

Until next time …


What to Watch for: 6.2.13

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Washington Nationals (28-28) vs. Atlanta Braves (33-22)

RHP Nathan Karns (0-0, 6.23) vs. LHP Paul Maholm (6-4, 3.74)

Washington sends rookie Nathan Karns to the hill in search of his first Major League win as the Nationals look to take the series in Atlanta. If recent history is any indication, Sunday’s finale should be a close contest. Six of the last seven games between these two teams have been decided by two runs or less, with each club winning three of those six.


1. Span CF

2. Lombardozzi LF

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. LaRoche 1B

5. Desmond SS

6. Moore RF

7. Espinosa 2B

8. Solano C

9. Karns RHP


The Nationals aim for the rubber match victory today before returning home (where they are 15-11 this season) for 20 of their next 32 contests. Washington has played 21 of its last 31 games on the road, compiling a 15-16 record during that stretch.


Washington has not committed an error as a team for a season-high five consecutive games. Up the middle, the defense has been particularly strong, with Ian Desmond playing 37 straight error-free contests, while Danny Espinosa has pitched in 22 straight outings without a defensive miscue.


When scoring three or more runs this season, the Nationals are 24-5, good for an .828 winning percentage. Conversely, the club is just 4-23 when scoring two times or less (.148).

Stammen The Tide

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A couple weeks ago, when discussing the options for taking over the injured Ross Detwiler’s spot in the rotation, Davey Johnson opted not to go with Craig Stammen, despite the righty’s excellent numbers early in the season. In fact, it was precisely because of those numbers that Johnson felt he needed Stammen in case of emergency long relief, or if the team needed quality extra-inning work. And while one never wishes for such situations to arise, when one did Friday night in a crucial series opener in Atlanta, Stammen was there to answer the call.

Did he ever.

Craig Stammen silenced the Braves over four innings of emergency relief to earn his third win.

Craig Stammen silenced the Braves over four innings of emergency relief to earn his third win.

The right-hander came on with the Nationals ahead 2-1 in the bottom of the third and set down all 12 Braves batters he faced, three by strikeout, to bridge the gap to the back of the bullpen. Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen and Rafael Soriano tossed an inning each to finish out a 3-2 victory, one that seemed a stretch to believe after Stephen Strasburg departed with tightness in his back after just two frames.

“He was unbelievable, he did a great job,” said Johnson of Stammen’s clutch performance. “I thought he could go about 50 pitches, and he did. He probably could have gone further…It was a big win. We needed it bad.”

While it’s hard to call any single outcome in a 162-game season a must-win, Friday night may well have been the most significant single matchup on the schedule so far this season. Coming off a pair of disappointing setbacks in Baltimore, the Nationals sat with even .500 record, trailing the first-place Braves by 5.5 games in the division. With Strasburg on the mound against up-and-down rookie starter Julio Teheran, Washington appeared to have the advantage in the pitching matchup heading into the evening. When that assumed advantage was suddenly thrown out the window, it was Stammen who led the charge, as the team came together to gut out a huge win.

“I try to stick to my routine of taking it one pitch at a time,” explained Stammen, acknowledging the overused phrase, but emphasizing the importance of that mindset. “It may sound cliché, but that’s really the only way you can look at it. If you put your heart and soul into every pitch, every time, sooner or later you look up and you’re through three or four innings.”

Denard Span used his speed to deliver two of Washington's three runs.

Denard Span used his speed to deliver two of Washington’s three runs.

Stammen’s four innings gave the offense enough time to piece together another run, just enough to squeak out a victory. All three runs came via productive outs, and all three were set up thanks to hustle plays. Leading off both the first and sixth innings, Denard Span stretched for an extra base after lacing a ball into the right-field corner, notching a pair of triples. In each case he went on to score easily on a deep sacrifice fly to right field by Steve Lombardozzi. The only other Washington tally came after Roger Bernadina and Danny Espinosa each singled with one out in the second, The Shark racing around to third base after Espinosa’s chopper bounced through the right side of the infield. Kurt Suzuki followed with a grounder to third, but busted hard out of the box, beating out the back end of a potential inning-ending, 5-4-3 double play, allowing Bernadina to score.

Together, the bullpen and lineup showed the kind of hustle and effort it will take to win games with Bryce Harper, Wilson Ramos and Jayson Werth still out of the lineup. Ultimately, Friday night’s game was one of sacrifice – Stammen’s well-earned tourniquet victory, Lombardozzi’s pair of run-scoring fly balls – of giving up whatever was needed to get the victory. It was epitomized by Stammen’s attitude afterward, one which the Nationals will need to embrace as they slowly get back to full strength.

“I’ll be here tomorrow with my cleats on,” he said, despite throwing 49 pitches over his four perfect frames. “If it goes 20 innings, I’m sure I can flip something up there.”

What to Watch for: 5.12.13

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Chicago Cubs (14-22) vs. Washington Nationals (20-16)

RHP Scott Feldman (3-3, 2.70) vs. LHP Gio Gonzalez (3-2, 4.97)

Washington looks to make it a 4-1 homestand with a rubber match victory over the Cubs today. The Nationals send southpaw Gio Gonzalez to the hill in search of his fourth win as Bryce Harper returns to the starting lineup for the first time since Thursday.


1. Span CF

2. Lombardozzi LF

3. Harper RF

4. Zimmerman 3B

5. LaRoche 1B

6. Desmond SS

7. Espinosa 2B

8. Suzuki C

9. Gonzalez LHP


Ian Desmond has posted consecutive three-hit efforts in two games this weekend against the Cubs. This is the third time in Desmond’s career he has registered three or more hits in back-to-back games, previously doing so in August of 2010. Spanning the 2012-13 campaigns, Desmond is 17-for-38 (.447) with five doubles, four home runs, 11 RBI, three walks, two stolen bases and nine runs scored in nine games against the North-siders.


Desmond (21), Danny Espinosa (12) and Steve Lombardozzi (2) have combined on 35 extra-base hits, tops among MLB middle-infield units. The Phillies rank second with 29 extra-base hits.


Nationals starting pitchers rank second in the National League and third in MLB with a 3.32 ERA (81 ER/219.1 IP). Last season, Washington paced the NL in starters ERA at 3.40.

Desmond Takes Bite Out of Other ‘Shark’

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Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija figured to be a tough matchup for the Nationals on Friday night. The 6-foot-5 right-hander had a strong recent history against Washington, compiling a 1.15 ERA with 16 strikeouts in two starts in 2012 – plus Bryce Harper was out of the lineup with a toe injury.

Ian Desmond had other designs. He entered the game a lifetime 5-for-10 with a pair of doubles against Samardzija, the only batter in the Nationals lineup with more than two career hits against the pitcher nicknamed “Shark” by his college teammates at Notre Dame. Desmond proved his history of head-to-head success was no fluke.

Batting fifth, the Nationals All-Star shortstop singled in his first at-bat and later scored on a two-out, two-run double by Kurt Suzuki that gave Washington an early 2-1 lead. He homered in his second trip to the plate, a two-run blast to left that snapped a 2-2 tie. He later gave the Nats a 5-2 advantage, driving home Ryan Zimmerman with a two-out double in the fifth, and scored one batter later on a two-run double by Danny Espinosa, completing the scoring for the Nats in a 7-3 victory.

Desmond went 3-for-4 with his fifth home run of the season.

Desmond went 3-for-4 with his fifth home run of the season in Friday’s 7-3 victory over the Cubs.

Three trips to the plate against Samardzija, three hits, three runs batted in and three runs scored. Combined with their previous meetings, Desmond is now 8-for-13 with three doubles and a home run against the Cubs ace, good for a slash line of .615/.615/1.077.

Desmond’s homer, his fifth of the season, carried another impressive distinction. All five of his long balls have given Washington the lead, and the Nats are 5-0 when Desmond goes deep.

Needing a triple to complete the cycle, Desmond grounded to third base against reliever Shawn Camp leading off the bottom of the eighth inning. Although disappointed in the result, Desmond offered up some humor to put everything into perspective.

“Yeah. But, I mean, third base is a long ways away,” he said.

District 9: Danny Espinosa

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We are putting our own spin on the traditional “10 Questions” format this season. To mix it up a little, we are asking players, front office members, coaches, prospects and others nine questions we think you’d like to know the answer to, then bringing you their responses in written and video form. This Q&A originally appeared in Volume 6, Issue 3 of Inside Pitch.

1. How do you prepare yourself to win every day, especially over the grind of 162 games?

It was the way that I was taught to play ball. It didn’t matter if I was on a bad team, a team that was supposed to lose or a team that was supposed to win. Nothing’s ever been hand­ed to me. When there’s a task at hand, I want to finish it the correct way.

2. Describe the team’s mindset now that it’s the hunted, instead of the hunter.

When you get onto the field, other teams should feel your presence. Mentally, you should already be up 1-0.

3. How does swagger factor into your game?

Swagger is just confidence, it’s how you carry yourself. It’s not being cocky, it’s just being confident. I think you go out there and play hard, and when you do something like hit a home run or make a big play, you act like you’ve done it before. You don’t showboat it.

4. What kind of relationship do you have with Davey Johnson?

I just see Davey as one of the guys, but I think that’s how he wants to be in the clubhouse. I was brought up to call everyone Mr. or Mrs., but he told me immediately to call him Davey.

5. What does toughness mean to you?

I don’t think I’ve ever asked for a day off. I played 160 of 162 last year. I’ll never ask for a day off if I haven’t hit a pitcher well or don’t feel 100 percent. You’ve got to learn to play with certain injuries or soreness.

6. Would you rather win a Gold Glove Award or a Silver Slugger Award?

Silver Slugger. I love defense, but I’d rather win a Silver Slugger.

7. Describe the boost you get playing in front of a sold out crowd at Nationals Park.

When you have a home crowd that’s behind you and likes you as a player and as a person, and they’re pulling for you, you want to come through. You always want to come through, but you feel like it’s just right for you to come through.

8. What is it like when you deliver in a key moment of the game?

It’s the best feeling in the world to come through in the clutch. To help the team out — put a bunt down, hit a sac fly, get a big base hit, make a nice play on defense — it feels great. You know your teammates appreciate it; they know how hard you play or how hard you don’t play. The fans appreciate it when guys play hard, run ground balls out and play the game the right way.

9. Talk about your defensive chemistry with shortstop Ian Desmond.

We’re both young and we both enjoy playing hard, and I think we’re both pretty athletic ballplayers. We like to get after it hard, get things done and take every hit away — we don’t want anything to get through the infield.

The Good Fight

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A quick glance at the final box score may suggest that Washington enjoyed a rather comfortable victory in its rubber match triumph on Sunday. But the series finale in Pittsburgh began about as poorly as one could possibly draw it up for the Nationals. They went three up, three down in the top of the first, culminating in Bryce Harper’s check swing strikeout, after which he was ejected by third base umpire and crew chief John Hirschbeck.

The bottom of the first didn’t get any better. Starling Marte hit Gio Gonzalez’s first pitch over the wall, Jordy Mercer followed with a double, and Ryan Zimmerman’s throw to first on a grounder by Andrew McCutchen hit the runner in the back. After a walk to Gaby Sanchez, the bases were loaded with nobody out.

Gio Gonzalez averted disaster in the first on the way to six strong innings.

Gio Gonzalez averted disaster in the first on the way to six strong innings.

The afternoon could well have been over right there. But Gonzalez locked in and fanned Russell Martin swinging, then Michael McKenry looking. With two outs, Brandon Inge sent a grounder past Gonzalez up the middle, but a rangy play and a strong throw across his body by Ian Desmond beat the runner to first, and the Nationals escaped with just the single run of damage.

“It just felt like the momentum shifted,” said Gonzalez after his first-inning Houdini act. “A younger me would have probably spiraled out of control, trying to be too much, trying to do too much.”

Instead, the Nationals got that run back immediately, as Zimmerman drew a leadoff walk to start the second inning, moved to third on Adam LaRoche’s double and scored on Danny Espinosa’s sac fly deep to center field, knotting the game at 1-1. The game remained deadlocked until Espinosa’s next at-bat, when he got into a two-out, two-strike hanging curveball from Wandy Rodriguez and punished it deep into the left field seats for a two-run shot, putting Washington ahead for good.

“He didn’t really try to crush it, he just met it,” said Davey Johnson of Espinosa’s swing. “Of course, he’s so strong, it went a long way.”

In a sense, that approach has been emblematic of the Nationals in general this year, where they may have pressed too much out of the gates. They are such a strong team that simply meeting the challenges in front of them should yield positive results.

The Pirates clawed back within a run in the sixth, but again Gonzalez stranded a big runner, leaving Martin at third base as the potential tying run. The start – six innings of two-run ball with two walks and five strikeouts – was much more like the Gonzalez Nationals fans got to know last year, when he won 21 games.

“He was the old Gio,” said Johnson after the game. “I hadn’t seen that grin in a long time.”

Tyler Moore's late blast gave Washington some breathing room.

Tyler Moore’s late blast gave Washington some breathing room.

The contest remained a one-run game until late, when Washington got some fitting redemption for the first-inning antics. With one out and Roger Bernadina at second base, the Pirates elected to walk LaRoche to get to Tyler Moore, who had gone down looking three times in as many trips. Moore fell behind 1-2, then checked his swing at a pitch out of the zone, with the home side appealing down to first base umpire Jim Reynolds, who signaled no swing. Moore annihilated the next pitch to left field for a three-run bomb to put the game out of reach.

“It fires you up a little bit,” said Moore of the intentional walk ahead of him, before quickly couching his statement. “But you can’t blame them. I would have done the same thing. LaRoche was swinging a good bat and I was struggling early.”

There have been a number of games so far this season where an early miscue or unfortunate turn would alter the mood, portending a feeling of, “Here we go again.” Sunday’s contest in Pittsburgh provided the most amount of early trouble to overcome in any victory thus far in the young season. Those feelings crept up upon Harper’s ejection, grew stronger after Marte’s leadoff home run, and were at full boil with the bases loaded and no outs in the first.

But just as it turned around a road trip that saw the club lose the first two games at rival Atlanta, Washington rebounded Sunday to make it four wins in five days to close the trip, mostly low-scoring, tightly-played affairs that leaned on the good pitching and solid defensive foundation upon which this roster was constructed. If the final game of the trip does mark a turning point in the campaign, it may also well serve as a microcosm of the season as a whole. After struggling from the outset and encountering some adversity, cooler heads prevailed on the way to victory.


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