Results tagged ‘ Michael Morse ’

Two Swings, One Number

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Baseball is a sport of routines, of countless situations played over and over again. It is a game that, more often than not, rewards those teams that are able to consistently take advantage of the opportunities afforded them to score runs and win games. However, one of the greatest parts about baseball is the likelihood of seeing something you’ve never seen before in each and every game. There are so many different ways for any given situation to unfold that no two games would ever play out exactly alike, even if – by some miracle – the box scores looked identical.

This anachronism played true to form on Saturday night, when the Nationals needed just two swings to take control of their fate, beating the host Cardinals in 10 innings to lower their NL East magic number to one. The first swing happened with no bat and no ball, and was a first for everyone in the ballpark, no matter how much baseball their eyes had seen. Michael Morse stepped into the box with the bases loaded and drove a ball the other way, clearing the right-field wall before caroming off the electronic billboard behind it and back into play. Initially ruled a single on the field, confusion reigned among the Nationals runners on the base paths, with Morse eventually being tagged out sliding back into first. Following a review, the umpires determined correctly that the ball had in fact cleared the wall for a grand slam.

Home runs have been overturned before in baseball since the advent of replay, but none have played out quite the way this one did. Morse, who had stayed at first base during the review, began running the bases when home plate umpire Cory Blaser gave the home run signal. However, he was ordered to go back to the base where he started when the play began. Initially he circled back around second to first, but was eventually sent back to home plate, with Bryce Harper – who began the play at third base and had been in the dugout for several minutes after scoring – summoned to return to the field as well. Upon arriving back at the batter’s box, Morse, not knowing what to do, took a phantom swing, then went into his home run trot, even tossing in his trademark helmet slap as he rounded the bases. Fittingly, a full moon rose from behind the outfield bleachers the next inning, looming over the spot where the ball had left the yard.

The Nationals would not score again until the 10th inning, after the Cardinals had come back to tie the game at 4-4 in the bottom of the ninth. This time, they did so on a play that baseball lifers have seen time and time again, one that anyone who has been following the Nats closely down the stretch over the past few weeks could see coming a mile away. Adam LaRoche, who led the inning off with a single, stood at second base with two outs following a Roger Bernadina sacrifice bunt and an Ian Desmond fly out. With Danny Espinosa at the plate, Cardinals Manager Mike Matheny elected to intentionally walk Espinosa, rather than let his reliever, Fernando Salas, face him.

Kurt Suzuki’s clutch double brought the Nationals to the brink of history.

In theory, the move was a shrewd one. Espinosa had found success against Salas in the past. Perhaps he remembered Espinosa’s triple off Salas on April 20 last season. He almost certainly had images of Espinosa’s three-run, walk-off home run that Salas served up in Washington a couple months after that. Perhaps it was as simple as wanting a righty-righty matchup instead of letting a left-handed batter (or switch-hitter, batting left) beat him. But Kurt Suzuki has not been just any right-handed hitter of late.

Since August 25, the Nationals trade acquisition has batted .322 (29-for-90) with a .522 slugging percentage and 20 RBI in just 27 games. He has supported the “Kurt Klutch” nickname he earned at Cal State Fullerton, where his two-out, RBI-single in the bottom of the seventh inning led the Titans to a 3-2 victory and College World Series title in 2004.

While the intentional walk can serve many purposes in the game, a two-out intentional walk means only one thing from the opposing manager: “I’ll take my chances against you.” Better not to do so facing a guy with a “Klutch” nickname. Suzuki ripped a two-run double to the base of the fence in left-center, providing the decisive blow.

The culmination of the two swings have left the Nationals on the brink of their first-ever National League East title which they could wrap up as soon as today. They need a single win (or Atlanta loss) to make it official here, fittingly, on the home field of the defending World Series Champions.

What to Watch For: 9/28

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Washington Nationals (95-61) vs. St. Louis Cardinals (84-72)

RHP Edwin Jackson (9-10, 3.77) vs. RHP Adam Wainwright (13-13, 4.02)

The Nationals six-game road trip continues to its second city, after Washington took the final two games to win the series in Philadelphia. Edwin Jackson returns to St. Louis for the first time since winning the 2011 World Series with the Cardinals as he opposes Adam Wainwright in the opening game of the series.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

From reliever Drew Storen, upon watching fellow bullpen-mate Tom Gorzelanny catch Michael Morse’s second home run Thursday night in his cap, as to which part of the play was more exciting:

“Well, they both were. We’re just happy anytime something happens out there.”

NATIONALS LINEUP

1. Werth RF

2. Harper CF

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. LaRoche 1B

5. Morse LF

6. Desmond SS

7. Espinosa 2B

8. Suzuki C

9. Jackson RHP

95 CURLY W’S IN THE BOOKS

With six games remaining, Washington has matched a franchise best with 95 wins (‘79 Expos) and needs four wins in its final six games to match the best mark by a D.C.-based team (‘33 Senators). The Nationals are the first ballclub from the Nation’s Capital to eclipse the 90-win plateau in 79 years, or since the pennant-winning 99-win ‘33 AL Nationals. This is the ninth 90-win campaign posted by a D.C. baseball team. From 1913-33, the AL Nationals posted eight 90-win seasons: 1933 (99 wins), 1925 (96), 1930 (94), 1932 (93), 1931 (92), 1924 (92), 1912 (91), 1913 (90).

X MARKS THE SPOT

Edwin Jackson enters tonight’s start with nine wins, looking to join teammates Gio Gonzalez (21 wins), Stephen Strasburg (15), Jordan Zimmermann (12) & Ross Detwiler (10) in the 10-win club. Washington would join the Giants as MLB’s only teams with five 10-game winners this season. In franchise annals, only the ‘79 Expos had at least five pitchers with 10 or more wins: Bill Lee (16 wins), Steve Rogers (13), Ross Grimsley (10), Rudy May (10), David Palmer (10), Dan Schatzeder (10). Only Lee and Rogers logged at least 10 wins in starts.

WORTH NOTING

The Nationals are 10-3 in their last 13 games at home against the Cardinals. However, since the beginning of the 2008 campaign, Washington is just 1-10 at the newest version of Busch Stadium. Washington has won six of the last nine one-run games in the series. Pitching in a starting role, Sean Burnett bested the Cardinals on June 29, 2004 at PNC Park to pocket his first big league win. Nationals hitting coach Rick Eckstein is the older brother of former Cardinals SS David Eckstein, who was named World Series MVP in 2006. MASN’s Bob Carpenter is a St. Louis native who spent 10 seasons broadcasting Cardinals baseball on radio and TV. WJFK’s Charlie Slowes began his broadcasting career at St. Louis’ KMOX, where he performed various on-air duties during broadcast of the Cardinals, the NFL Cardinals, the Blues and St. Louis University basketball from 1984-86.

DATE IN DC BASEBALL

September 28, 2010: The last of 76 home runs hit by Adam Dunn as a National is a game-ending solo blast off Jose Contreras and finalizes a 2-1 victory over the visiting Phillies.

September, 28 2011 — Washington wraps up its season with a 3-1 win at MIA, as Stephen Strasburg picks up his first win after coming back from Tommy John surgery. Drew Storen picked up his 43rd save with a clean 9th inning.

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What to Watch For: 9/22

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Milwaukee Brewers (78-72) vs. Washington Nationals (91-59)

RHP Wily Peralta (2-0, 2.14) vs. LHP Gio Gonzalez (19-8, 2.95)

 The Nationals have split the first four contests of their current seven-game homestand, and are looking to bounce back after last night’s loss to the Brewers. Gio Gonzalez takes the hill for Washington as he attempts to become the first 20-game winner in Nationals history.

NATIONALS LINEUP

1. Werth RF

2. Harper CF

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. LaRoche 1B

5. Morse LF

6. Desmond SS

7. Espinosa 2B

8. Suzuki C

9. Gonzalez LHP

VIEW FROM THE TOP

The Nationals own MLB’s best winning percentage at .607 thanks in part to a 42-25 (.627) mark since the All-Star break. Washington currently owns 0.5- and 2.0-game leads over the Reds and Rangers, respectively, in the race for the best record in MLB. The Nationals have either led the NL East or shared the top spot for 154 of the season’s 164 days. Only the Rangers (161) have enjoyed more days atop of their division in ‘12.

SEPTEMBER NORM

Washington is 11-8 in September and remains MLB’s only team to have played winning baseball every month this year: August (19-10), July (17-9), June (15-10), May (15-13), April (14-8). Including a 17-10 mark in September of ’11, Washington has posted six straight winning months.

D.C.’S DYNAMIC DUO

Thanks to DL stints, Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse have started only 89 games together, but in those 89 games, Washington is 60-29 (.674) and is averaging 5.1 runs per contest (455 runs, 89 games). When Zimmerman and/or Morse are not in Davey Johnson’s starting lineup this season, the Nationals are 31-30 (.508) and averaging 3.5 runs per game.

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What to Watch For: 9/5

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Chicago Cubs (51-84) vs. Washington Nationals (83-52)

RHP Chris Volstad (2-9, 6.06) vs. LHP Gio Gonzalez (17-7, 3.10)

The Nationals matched a franchise record with six home runs, coming off the bats of five different hitters, as they cruised to an 11-5 victory over the Cubs Tuesday night for their fifth win in the first six games of their current 11-game homestand. Gio Gonzalez takes the hill on the heels of his first career shutout as he looks for his career-high 18th win.

NATIONALS LINEUP

1. Bernadina CF

2. Harper RF

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. LaRoche 1B

5. Morse LF

6. Desmond SS

7. Espinosa 2B

8. Suzuki C

9. Gonzalez LHP

ABOUT THOSE HOMERS LAST NIGHT…

Ian Desmond hit a two-run, first-inning home run and Adam LaRoche went deep twice to spark a six-homer barrage. The Nationals became the first team representing the Nation’s Capital in 79 years of modern (1901-present) baseball (6,124 games) to hit more than four homers in a home game. The six homers also matched a Nationals (‘05-present) single-game mark (May 20, 2011 at Baltimore). Washington matched a season high with 11 extra-base hits, as all nine Nationals starters tallied at least one hit.

LAROCHE KEEPING ELIAS BUSY

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, with his 4-for-4, two-home run effort last night, LaRoche is the third Nationals player to go 4-for-4 or better with two homers in a game. The other to do it were Nick Johnson on April 20, 2006 (4-4, 2B, 2 HR, 3 RBI, BB, 2 R) and Josh Willingham on August 25, 2009 (4-4, 2 HR, 6 RBI, BB, 5 R). LaRoche ranks among National League first basemen in HR (first, 27), RBI (first, 87), SLG (third, .498) and OPS (third, .834).

START ME UP

Gonzalez is coming off the first shutout of his career in Friday’s 10-0 win vs. St. Louis. He struck out eight along the way en route to his second complete game in five starts. With 17, has already established a Nationals single-season record for wins, besting Livan Hernandez’s 15-win campaign in 2005. The last DC-based pitcher to win 18+: Bob Porterfield (22 in 1953).

DATE IN DC BASEBALL

September 5, 2011: Desmond (first-inning leadoff homer), Michael Morse (third career multi-homer game) and Jayson Werth (18th of the season) combined on three first-inning home runs, four total in the game, as Washington powered past the Dodgers, 7-2, at Nationals Park.

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Twice As Bryce

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The Nationals needed a spark. They needed something, or someone, to step forward and deliver a big hit to kick-start a struggling offense that had scored just six times in a five-game losing streak. Fittingly, they got it from a player aiming to right his own course this season, looking to finish the regular season strong.

Bryce Harper hit a pair of home runs Wednesday night to back Ross Detwiler and the bullpen in an 8-4 victory in Miami. His second home run (seen below) will be the one that most folks remember from the contest, as it made him just the third teenage center fielder ever to log a multi-home run performance, not to mention the fact that it drilled a seat in the sixth row of the upper deck in right-center field. But it was the rookie’s first dinger that opened the floodgates for the rest of the Nationals offense. After going 0-for-9 the first time through the lineup against Marlins rookie starter Jacob Turner, Harper’s blast (which followed a leadoff single by Jayson Werth) was the second hit in a string in which six of seven Nats hit safely.

During that sequence, Michael Morse scorched a ball that would have been a home run in nearly any other ballpark, settling for a triple. In all, six different Washington batters tallied multi-hit games, and catcher Kurt Suzuki checked in with his first home run in a Nationals uniform, padding the lead in the ninth inning. The offense finished the night with 14 hits, a needed jolt as the team gained a game back from the Atlanta Braves in the National League East. Washington leads the division by 5.0 as they open an 11-game homestand with four games against the defending World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals Thursday night in D.C.

With 33 games remaining in the regular season, 21 of them right here on the shores of the Anacostia, it will be interesting to see which players step forward to carry the Nationals to the finish line. Adam LaRoche came up huge in April and May with much of the heart of the lineup injured. Ryan Zimmerman and Morse each went on tears in June and July to keep the team atop the division. And recently, Werth has been on fire since returning from his broken wrist to carry the load. With seven games against the Cardinals, three against the newly revamped Dodgers and three more with Atlanta still to play, Washington will need its big bats to step up once again. If Wednesday night was any indication, this team looks ready to get after it down the home stretch.

What to Watch For: 8/28

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Washington Nationals (77-50) vs. Miami Marlins (58-71)

RHP Stephen Strasburg (15-5, 2.85) vs. RHP Ricky Nolasco (9-12, 5.07)

The Nationals head to Florida after their second day of rest in the past five calendar days as they open a short, two-game set in Miami. Shortstop Ian Desmond and outfielder Michael Morse both return to the lineup as Stephen Strasburg looks to get Washington back in the win column against the division-rival Marlins.

NATIONALS LINEUP

1. Werth RF

2. Harper CF

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. LaRoche 1B

5. Morse LF

6. Desmond SS

7. Espinosa 2B

8. Suzuki C

9. Strasburg RHP

STRAS THE STOPPER

Stephen Strasburg looks to end Washington’s four-game losing streak tonight against Miami, a club against which he has fired 27.0 consecutive scoreless innings, spanning four-plus starts. This is the second-longest streak among active MLB pitchers, joining teammate Gio Gonzalez and his 27.2 scoreless innings streak against Cleveland. It is also the longest such streak in Nationals (‘05-present) history. Strasburg has worked at least 6.0 scoreless innings in five of seven career starts against the Fish.

PINCH ME, I’M DREAMING

Nationals pinch-hitters are collectively having one of the finest seasons since pinch statistics began being compiled by STATS, Inc. in 1974. In 2012, Davey Johnson’s pinch hitters are batting .315 (46-for-146) with 12 doubles, a triple, three home runs, 21 RBI, 19 walks and five HBP. Last year, Nationals pinch hitters batted .186 (38-for-204) with just five extra-base hits. Using pinch-hit numbers, Washington ranks among the best of the 538 individual National League clubs beginning in 1974 in batting average (second overall, .315), on-base percentage (third overall, .409), slugging percentage (ninth overall, .473) and OPS (third overall, .882).

NOTABLE NOTES OF NOTE

Ryan Zimmerman’s 16 career homers against the Marlins are tied with Atlanta for the most he’s hit against another club. The Nationals won their final two series at Sun Life Stadium, but have lost their initial two at Marlins Park. Via a 10-8 mark in ‘07, the Nationals/Expos franchise has won only one season series from the Marlins since ‘98. With a 3-1 win on Sept. 28, 2011, Stephen Strasburg (win) and the Nationals helped end Florida’s tenure at Sun Life Stadium. Roger Bernadina recorded the final hit and RBI in the venue’s 19-year MLB history.

DATE IN DC BASEBALL

August 28, 2008: Cristian Guzman becomes the first Washington, DC.-based big leaguer to hit for the cycle (sequence: HR, 1B, 2B, 3B) in front of fans in the Nation’s Capital. Before Guzman’s feat, six players representing the AL Nationals, Senators, expansion Senators or Nationals hit for the cycle, but all six came on the road. Guzman’s cycle was the seventh to occur in D.C. since 1900, the first in nearly 61 years, since Detroit’s Vic Wertz ran the gamut on September 14, 1947 at Griffith Stadium.

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What to Watch For: 8/20

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Atlanta Braves (70-51) vs. Washington Nationals (75-46)

RHP Tim Hudson (12-4, 3.59) vs. RHP Jordan Zimmermann (9-7, 2.38)

The Nationals rode home runs from Danny Espinosa and Bryce Harper to another series victory over the Mets on Sunday, staking themselves to a 5.0-game lead in the NL East. Washington begins a crucial three-game set Monday night with the second-place Braves as Jordan Zimmermann puts his Major League-leading 2.38 ERA on the line against Atlanta’s Tim Hudson.

NATIONALS LINEUP

1. Werth RF

2. Harper CF

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. Morse LF

5. LaRoche 1B

6. Desmond SS

7. Espinosa 2B

8. Suzuki C

9. Zimmermann RHP

LONG TIME, NO SEE

Jordan Zimmermann gets the ball today against Tim Hudson and the Atlanta Braves. This will be J-Zimm’s  first start against the Braves in more than 15 months, with his last one coming on May 12, 2011 at Turner Field. In that outing, Zimmermann received the no-decision despite striking out 11 in 6.1 innings of work.

HAPPY TO HOMER

Per the Elias Sports Bureau, the Nationals have won 18 straight games in which they have hit at least one home run. This is the longest such streak in MLB this season, in Nationals (’05-present) history and franchise annals. The last team with a homer-and-win streak to reach 18:  the ’08 Rays, who won 20 straight games in which they homered, July 21-August 22.

D.C.’S DYNAMIC DUO

Thanks to DL stints, Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse have started only 67 games together, but in those 67, Washington is 45-22 (.672) and is averaging 5.0 runs per contest (334 runs in 67 games). When Zimmerman and/or Morse are not in Davey’s starting lineup this season, the Nationals are 30-24 (.556) and averaging 3.7 runs per game.

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What to Watch For: 8/19

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New York Mets (57-63) vs. Washington Nationals (74-46)

RHP Jeremy Hefner (2-4, 4.76) vs. LHP Gio Gonzalez (15-6, 3.29)

Washington never got going as the New York Mets shut out the Nationals 2-0 Saturday night to even the series at a game apiece. In today’s rubber match, Gio Gonzalez will be opposed by righty Jeremy Hefner, who has suffered two of his four losses this year in his previous two starts against Washington, allowing five runs (and three home runs) in 12 innings of work.

NATIONALS LINEUP

1. Werth RF

2. Harper CF

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. LaRoche 1B

5. Morse LF

6. Desmond SS

7. Espinosa 2B

8. Suzuki C

9. Gonzalez LHP

THE STAKES AT HAND

Having split a pair here in D.C., the Nationals and Mets will settle the series outcome with today’s rubber game. The Nationals are 5-2 in rubber games this year, having won on August 15 at San Francisco (6-4), July 1 at Atlanta (8-4), June 21 vs. Tampa Bay (5-2), May 3 vs. Arizona (2-1) and April 11 at NYM (4-0).

HOMER HAPPY

Despite missing significant time due to injuries to Michael Morse, Jayson Werth, Ian Desmond, Ryan Zimmerman and Wilson Ramos, the Nationals have hit 129 homers in 120 games or 1.08 long balls per contest. In seven previous years in D.C., Washington hit more than 1.0 home run per game only once: in ‘06 the Nationals blasted 164 long balls in 162 games (1.01 per game).

D.C.’S DYNAMIC DUO

Thanks to DL stints for Morse and Zimmerman, Washington played the season’s first 50 games with only one or none of their middle-of-the-order bats. In those 50 games, the Nationals went 29-21 (.580) and averaged 3.8 runs per game. In 66 games with both in the lineup, Washington is 44-22 (.667) and is averaging 5.0 runs per contest (without either Morse or Zimmerman, Washington is 1-3 and averaging 2.5 runs per game since June 2).

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What to Watch for: 8/17

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New York Mets (56-62) vs. Washington Nationals (73-45)

LHP Johan Santana (6-8, 4.58) vs. LHP Ross Detwiler (6-5, 3.18)

Following a stellar 8-2 road trip, the Nationals return home for six games against their NL East rival New York Mets and Atlanta Braves. The Nats will shuffle the rotation to send Ross Detwiler to the hill in the series opener against fellow southpaw Johan Santana. Washington will feature the quintet of Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Michael Morse and Ian Desmond in the lineup together for the first time all season.

NATIONALS LINEUP

1. Werth RF

2. Harper CF

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. Morse LF

5. LaRoche 1B

6. Desmond SS

7. Espinosa 2B

8. Suzuki C

9. Detwiler LHP

SMOOTH ROAD

At 41-23 (.641), Washington owns the best road winning percentage in MLB, taking 14 of their last 17 road contests. Washington is 14-4-2 in road series in 2012, including a 6-0-2 (win-loss-split) mark in road series play dating to June 25. With 41 wins outside of D.C. in the books, the Nationals have assured themselves of their first winning road record since landing in The District in 2005.

SLEEPING IN OWN BED

As well as the Nationals have played on the road (chronicled above), note that the Nationals have more home games remaining than any club in MLB. In fact, 27 of Washington’s final 44 contests (61%) will take place within the comfy confines of Nationals Park, more than any other team in baseball. The Nationals own a 32-22 mark at home, yielding a .593 winning percentage (4th in NL/6th in MLB).

AUGUST AND EVERYTHING PRIOR

The Nationals are an 12-4 thus far in August and are the only big league have played winning baseball every month this season: July (17-9), June (15-10), May (15-13) and April (14-8). Including September of ’11, Washington has posted five straight winning months.

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The Road Warriors Return

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As we hit the home stretch of the regular season, there will be much use of the “C” word, as people refer to the various opportunities the Nationals could clinch: a potential playoff spot, possibly a division title, even home-field advantage. But on Wednesday, August 15, the Nationals already clinched something significant. By winning their 41st road game, they broke the previous franchise mark for victories away from Washington D.C. (40 in 2005), thereby guaranteeing themselves a winning road record in the 2012 season.

The return of Ian Desmond gives the Nats the healthiest lineup they’ve had all season.

To really appreciate how good the Nationals have been on the road this season, consider the following: at 41-23, their .640 road winning percentage is not simply the best in the league, it’s better than any other team’s home winning percentage. In other words, at this juncture in the season, Washington statistically stands a better chance to win on the road than any team that hosts them.

For some perspective, imagine this: the last team to accomplish this feat for a full season was the 2001 Seattle Mariners, who went an otherworldly 59-22 (.728) away from Safeco Field on their way to a 116-win season. Not even the 1998 Yankees, who went an astounding 52-29 (.642) away from New York in a 114-win campaign, finished the season with a better road record than the rest of baseball’s home marks. All three National League division winners (Braves: 56-25, Astros: 55-26, Padres: 54-27) were better at home that year.

All of this is even more encouraging knowing that they will see Ian Desmond – who has been sidelined with an oblique injury since shortly after the All-Star break – activated for Friday night’s series opener against the Mets. After he took his first full workout on Tuesday in San Francisco, Desmond decided to have a little fun with his manager, giving him a scare about the timetable for his return.

“I’m hurting,” he told Davey Johnson following his first session of hitting again at full strength. “My ears are hurting from the loud sounds coming off my bat.”

Steve Lombardozzi has stepped up in a big way, and earned himself a spot on the roster despite Desmond’s return.

And while Washington will not get catcher Wilson Ramos back until next season, with Desmond’s return they will field the healthiest version of their projected everyday lineup so far this season. Nationals fans have yet to see Desmond, Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse all on the same field at the same time. It is conceivable that in spite of the club’s unprecedented success thus far in 2012, that the Nationals best baseball is yet to come.

If so, there is no better time for it than this week in Washington, where they will face the division rival Mets and Braves. While the Mets have dropped off the pace in the NL East race, they remain a dangerous club with tough pitching, including former Cy Young Award-winner Johan Santana, who throws in the series opener on Friday. And we hardly need to tell you the importance of the Braves series, which will see two of the top three teams in the National League dueling it out for NL East supremacy and postseason positioning. As others have noted, it may be the most important series played in our Nation’s Capital in several generations. So it is comforting to know that the Nationals are not only playing some of their best baseball yet, but there are reinforcements on the way as well.

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