Healthy Nats lineup starting to rediscover power

Healthy Nats lineup starting to rediscover power
July 10, 2014, 12:15 am
Share This Post

BALTIMORE — The Nationals waited three months to get their entire lineup healthy and together for the first time all season. Then they continued to wait for that healthy lineup to start putting more baseballs into the bleachers.

Wednesday night, the Nats got their first glimpse at what exactly this team is capable of doing when it not only hits, but hits for power. Behind three towering home runs from Wilson Ramos, Ian Desmond and Jayson Werth, they blasted the Orioles 6-2 and looked ahead to another 2 1/2 months of increased power numbers from this potent group.

"There's definitely a lot of power in the lineup," Werth said. "You can't figure them things out sometimes. We'll see as we go. But we've got a lot of sock in the lineup, up and down. When you've got Wilson Ramos hitting eighth, that's pretty good."

The Nationals entered play Wednesday tied for 20th in the majors with 74 home runs in 88 games. Nobody on the roster was on pace to crack the 30-homer barrier for the season. Only Desmond was on pace to finish with more than 25.

There is, however, immense power potential from just about everyone in the lineup aside from leadoff man Denard Span, whose 28 doubles are more than satisfactory production out of that spot. The sense within the clubhouse is that home-run production will only increase over the season's second half as previously injured regulars like Ramos, Ryan Zimmerman and Bryce Harper regain strength.

"Yeah, sure," manager Matt Williams said. "Look at our guys. Zim is coming off a thumb [injury]. It's strength. Harp: Certainly strength. Wilson, it's strength. The more you play, the more that strength comes back. That's what we're seeing."

Ramos certainly showed his immense power potential on Wednesday, launching a 1-2 pitch from Orioles right-hander Bud Norris well beyond the left-field wall at Camden Yards for only his third homer in 129 at-bats. Quietly, the catcher has put together a 12-game hitting streak, raising his batting average to .295.

And though he insists he's not trying to hit the ball out of the park, he feels like he will start doing that more now that his broken hand is feeling strong again.

"I feel I'm swinging better right now," he said. "I'm not looking for a homer any time. I'm just trying to put the ball in play, put a good swing on the ball, make good contact. That's what I like to do. ... I never look for a homer. Every time I look for a homer, I'm 100 percent sure I hit a groundball to the shortstop."

Werth, too, is starting to hit the ball with more authority after a slump that lasted several weeks. Over his last seven games, he's now hitting .440 (11-for-25) with three homers, six doubles and 11 RBI.

"It's a matter of getting the ball in the air," said first baseman Adam LaRoche, who missed a grand slam Wednesday night by about five feet. "We've been killing some balls and hitting line drives. Miss those by a half-inch, and they turn into home runs."

Williams cautions against his team counting on home runs too much, insisting his players need to be good situational hitters as well.

"You can't live by them, certainly," the manager said. "You have to manufacture sometimes. To get those homers with guys on base is especially important, because those are crooked numbers. ... It's important for us to get guys on base and give ourselves opportunities."

That said, there's every reason to believe the home run can become a bigger part of the Nationals' offensive attack over the rest of the summer. Combine a healthy lineup with warm, muggy air, and the end result could be a surge of souvenirs for fans in the bleachers.

"If you see the lineup, everybody can hit a homer on this ballclub," Ramos said. "I like what I see right now in my team. Everybody 's healthy. That's what we want. If we stay like that, I'm 100 percent sure something good is coming."