Bryce Harper returns as Nats offense crushes in win

Bryce Harper returns as Nats offense crushes in win
June 30, 2014, 10:00 pm
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GAME IN A NUTSHELL: For the first time in three months, the Nationals took the field tonight feeling like a complete ball club again. With Bryce Harper off the disabled list, the entire lineup was together again. And boy did it have to feel good for this team and an energetic crowd of 33,660 that made Nationals Park bounce up and down on what would otherwise have been a typical summer Monday night.

Harper announced his presence right away, as only he can, attempting to throw behind the batter at first base on a single to left field. At the plate, he contributed in more traditional fashion, sending an RBI single up the middle for the Nats' first run of the night.

Jordan Zimmermann gave two runs back to the Rockies in the top of the sixth, but that deep and potent Nationals lineup quickly got those runs back, and a bunch more during a 5-run bottom of the sixth that featured an RBI double by third baseman Ryan Zimmerman (yes, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman) and then a bases-loaded double by Ian Desmond moments after Colorado elected to intentionally walk Harper.

So the Nationals cruised to victory in the opener of their 8-game homestand and opened the second half of the season in style, hoping a healthy roster will carry this club to loftier heights.

HITTING HIGHLIGHT: You think a healthy lineup makes a difference? Afforded the opportunity to field his entire Opening Day eight for the first time since the seventh inning on Opening Day, Matt Williams saw just what this group is capable of doing at the plate. Everybody reached base at least once, with Zimmerman reaching three times on a single and two doubles. The biggest hit, though, came from a guy who needed it more than anybody else: Desmond. His bases-loaded double in the sixth not only gave the Nationals the lead for good, it also snapped a 1-for-15 skid in which Desmond looked lost at the plate. Perhaps that will be the one that gets the shortstop back on track.

PITCHING HIGHLIGHT: Zimmermann set the bar so high this month — he entered with a 1.18 ERA in June — that this outing felt like something of a disappointment. But look up at the end of the night, and the right-hander tossed six innings of 2-run ball, striking out five and walking only one. The Rockies did start to hit the ball hard against him late, especially during their 2-run sixth. But give Zimmermann credit: Even on what amounted to an off-night by his standards, he still was more than good enough to earn the win.

DEFENSIVE HIGHLIGHT: So, how did Zimmerman fare in his first game at third base in 2 1/2 months? Not bad. Not bad at all. His first chance in the field came on a bunt, with Zimmerman charging in and making a strong, barehanded throw that was a touch late but right on target. His second chance was particularly impressive. Zimmerman lunged to his right to snag a line drive, then threw all the way across the diamond to complete a double play that left the crowd roaring with approval. Who knows how this will proceed from here, but for at least one night, Zim looked like his old self at the hot corner.

KEY STAT: With the bases loaded this season, Ian Desmond is now 6-for-6 with 14 RBI.

UP NEXT: The Nationals will be facing another left-hander Tuesdaywhen Christian Friedrich takes the mound for Colorado. Stephen Strasburg, coming off one of the worst starts of his career, will throw the first pitch at 7:05 p.m.