Quick Links

Harper hitting second for Nats

757174.png

Harper hitting second for Nats

PITTSBURGH -- They've had nearly 48 hours to recover from the craziness of Sunday night's game against the Phillies (and the chaos that followed). Now the Nationals return to the field, beginning a six-game road trip to Pittsburgh and Cincinnati with tonight's series opener at PNC Park.

Davey Johnson's lineup includes both Ryan Zimmerman (activated off the DL) and Adam LaRoche (back after missing four games with a sore oblique). It also features Bryce Harper in the 2-hole for the first time. (Hey, maybe Davey reads this blog!)

Edwin Jackson, meanwhile, gets the start against A.J. Burnett. Given the great pitching (and lack of run production) both of these teams have gotten so far this season, I would highly expect some low-scoring, tense ballgames. Either that, or a 14-13 slugfest.

Updates to come, so please check the Nats Insider live game thread...

WASHINGTON NATIONALS at PITTSBURGH PIRATES
Where: PNC Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN2, MLB.tv
Radio: WJFK (106.7 FM), WFED (1500 AM), XM 185
Weather: Scattered storms, 69 degrees, Wind 7 mph out to LF

NATIONALS (18-10)
SS Ian Desmond
RF Bryce Harper
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam LaRoche
2B Danny Espinosa
CF Rick Ankiel
C Wilson Ramos
LF Roger Bernadina
RHP Edwin Jackson

PIRATES (12-16)
LF Jose Tabata
2B Neil Walker
CF Andrew McCutchen
3B Pedro Alvarez
1B Casey McGehee
RF Garrett Jones
SS Clint Barmes
C Rod Barajas
P A.J. Burnett

Quick Links

Nats ride Gonzalez, bats to 8-5 victory over the Rockies

usatsi_9501562.jpg
USA TODAY Sports

Nats ride Gonzalez, bats to 8-5 victory over the Rockies

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 8-5 win over the Colorado Rockies on Friday night at Nationals Park.

How it happened: The Nationals have quickly gotten the sour taste of their recent four-game skid out of their mouths.

Thanks to a resurgent offense and a quality start by Gio Gonzalez, Washington got back on track with Friday’s 8-2 win over the Rockies, the Nats’ second win in as many days.

True to form, the power-laden lineup didn’t take long to strike. Jayson Werth launched a solo home run, his second in as many days and his 18th of the season, to put Washington up 1-0 in the first inning, and scored again in the third on an RBI groundout by Daniel Murphy.

With the game tied 2-2 in the fourth inning, the Nats wouldn’t create breathing room until the middle innings. The Nats took a lead they wouldn’t surrender when they scored two runs on a Jose Lobaton fielder’s choice in the fourth inning, followed by a Murphy solo home run in the fifth to make it 4-2.

From there, the game was blown open in the seventh inning thanks to a four-spot that was highlighted by an RBI double by Werth and a two-run triple by Bryce Harper that nearly left the ballpark.

The Rockies closed the gap to 8-5 on a Nick Hundley three-run home run in the ninth off Shawn Kelley, so Dusty Baker turned to Mark Melancon to notch the final out and secure the victory.  

What it means: The Nats have won back to back games and have raised their record to 75-53. Pending the result of the Miami Marlins game, Washington could be up nine games in the NL East by the end of the night.

Gonzalez notches win No. 100: The lefty starter wasn’t dominant by any means, but he did what Baker wanted him to do: keep his pitch count down and avoid the big inning. Gonzalez allowed two earned runs on four hits over six innings and 85 pitches, and limited the damage every time the Rockies were threatening. He could have easily gone deeper in the game, but Baker opted to pinch hit for him when the Nats had two on and two out in the bottom of the sixth. Regardless, the performance was good enough to earn Gonzalez the 100th victory of his career. 

Murphy’s milestone: With his 25th home run of the season, a fifth-inning solo shot, Murphy notched his 500th career RBI. It’s a remarkable achievement considering that he currently has 98 RBI on the season, which means roughly a fifth of the runs he’s driven in have come in 2016.

Bryce back? Don’t look now, but Harper is looking very much like the reigning NL MVP these days. He added two more extra-base hits Friday night, including his first triple of the season, and is now hitting an even .400 since his return from a neck injury. His season average has suddenly risen to .254, and with the way he’s going, could get to .260 by the end of the weekend.

Up next: The middle game of this three-game set will take place Saturday afternoon at 1:05 p.m. as the Nats send A.J. Cole (0-1, 5.14 ERA) to oppose Jorge De La Rosa (8-7, 5.07 ERA).

Quick Links

Frank Howard on Ring of Honor, Bryce Harper and a potential Nats World Series

Frank Howard on Ring of Honor, Bryce Harper and a potential Nats World Series

Friday night wasn't the first time the Nationals paid tribute to Senators slugger Frank Howard. After all, it’s his likeness that is featured in one of the few statues outside of Nats Park. 

But it wasn't until a recent change in the team’s Ring of Honor criteria — which now allows for any pre-Nats/Expos D.C. great to be inducted — that Howard became eligible for recognition by the franchise.  

 “It’s a real thrill for me, it really is,” said Howard, 80, before Friday’s game against the Colorado Rockies. “It’s nice when somebody says ‘Welcome to the Ring of Honor.’”

For many longtime D.C. sports fans, Howard is one of the few vestiges of the city’s last baseball team before a 34-year gap without the game. He had his best years as a member of the Senators from 1965 to 1971, hitting 237 home runs — the most any player representing D.C. has ever hit.

On Friday, Howard didn’t delve too much into his past, instead praising the current state of D.C.’s baseball team.

“They’re not a young organization anymore,” Howard said of the Nats. “They wanted to create their own image and they should. They’ve done a beautiful job, from top to bottom.”

Howard’s impact on the game went beyond the nation’s capital. Nats manager Dusty Baker said that when he was growing up, his brother would emulate Howard, who began his career with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“As a kid, his name was big Frank Howard, or ‘Hondo.’,” Baker recalled. “We’re playing games in the back yard and my brother was Frank Howard, and I was Tommy Davis.”

Baker would get to meet and interact with Howard over the years, calling him “the most gentle giant of a man I know.” Howard returned the favor with a few compliments of his own.  

“Dusty Baker is a quality big league player, quality big league manager,” he said. "Knows the game from A to Z and back to Z to A. He’s been very successful.”

And of course, talking to any D.C. baseball great means getting their opinion on the reigning NL MVP, Bryce Harper.

“He haven’t even begun to scratch the surface,” Howard said of the 23-year-old right fielder. “His next 10 years should be dynamite years.”

As great as Howard was for the Senators, the teams he played for in D.C. were rarely considered World Series contenders. This Nats club, on the other hand, represents a perennial threat to win it all, something Howard hopes the team will make good on someday. 

“I think it’d be great for the area,” he said. “We’ve got great fans here, and to give them a world championship ball club would be a real thrill.”

Quick Links

Gonzalez takes the mound as the Nats kick off weekend set vs. Rockies

Gonzalez takes the mound as the Nats kick off weekend set vs. Rockies

Nats (74-53) vs. Rockies (60-67) at Nationals Park

The Nationals will look to make it back-to-back wins Friday night as they host the Colorado Rockies for the first of a three-game weekend set. Washington will send Gio Gonzalez (8-9, 4.30 ERA) to the mound to oppose rookie right hander Jeff Hoffman (0-1, 13.50 ERA). 

The last time these two clubs met, the Nats dropped two of three in Colorado, as they were overwhelmed by the Rockies' power-laden lineup. Dusty Baker and company will hope to fare better this time around in the friendly confines of Nats Park.  

Speaking of Baker, his lineup will be without Wilson Ramos for the second straight day. The Nats' skipper explained before Friday's game that his catcher is fine, and that the move is to simply give him an additional day of rest. Jose Lobaton, who called Thursday night's shutout against the Orioles, will be back in there and batting eighth. Other than that, it's the typical lineup. 

First pitch: 7:05 p.m.
TV: MASN 2
Radio: 106.7 The Fan
Starting pitchers: Nats - Gio Gonzalez vs. Rockies - Jeff Hoffman

NATS

CF Trea Turner
LF Jayson Werth
2B Daniel Murphy
RF Bryce Harper
3B Anthony Rendon
1B Ryan Zimmerman
SS Danny Espinosa
C Jose Lobaton
LHP Gio Gonzalez

ROCKIES

CF Charlie Blackmon
1B Stephen Cardullo 
3B Nolan Arenado
RF Carlos Gonzalez
LF Ryan Raburn
C Nick Hundley
2B Daniel Descalso 
SS Cristhian Adames
RHP Jeff Hoffman