Quick Links

Instant Analysis: Nats 5, Rays 2

798798.png

Instant Analysis: Nats 5, Rays 2

Game in a nutshell: On a steamy night on South Capitol Street, the Nationals stayed hot against the Rays. A couple of runs in the bottom of the second put them ahead, and though Gio Gonzalez gave the run back, the left-hander battled his way through an effective outing and kept the game tied entering the bottom of the sixth. That's when Danny Espinosa delivered a clutch, two-out, two-run double off Joel Peralta to give the Nats a 4-2 lead and put Gonzalez in line for the win. They added an insurance run on Roger Bernadina's double in the seventh, then saw relievers Ryan Mattheus, Sean Burnett and Tyler Clippard slam the door on the Tampa Bay lineup, in the process giving the Nationals another series victory over a tough AL East opponent.

Hitting highlight: It looked like this would be another one of those nights when Espinosa looks unstoppable from the right side (and only the right side) of the plate, but the switch-hitting second baseman had even more in store for everyone. After drawing a walk in the third and then doubling as a right-handed hitter in the fourth, Espinosa was turned around for a key at-bat in the sixth against Peralta. How did the .188 hitter from the left side respond? By roping another double down the right-field line, this one bringing home both Jesus Flores and Adam LaRoche to give the Nationals the lead for good.
Pitching highlight: The evening got off to a bit of a ragged start for Gonzalez, who was falling behind just about every hitter he faced in his first two innings and saw his pitch count ratchet up to 50. But a mound conference with pitching coach Steve McCatty with two outs in a second seemed to get Gonzalez on track. He wound up retiring 10 of the next 11 batters he faced, then came up with a big strikeout of pinch-hitter Elliot Johnson to strand two men on base in the top of the sixth. It wasn't necessarily Gonzalez's best start of the year, but it was a gutty effort from the left-hander, who was rewarded for it with his ninth win of the season (matching Stephen Strasburg for the club lead).

Key stat: With a paid crowd of 29,551 tonight, the Nationals surpassed the 1 million mark for the season faster than any year since the inaugural 2005 season at RFK Stadium.

Up next: This year's interleague slate concludes with Round 2 of the Battle of the Beltways. The Nats will make the long trek north to Baltimore Friday night, sending Jordan Zimmermann to the hill against the Orioles' Wei-Yin Chen.

Quick Links

X-ray on Nationals' star Bryce Harper's left thumb brings good news

X-ray on Nationals' star Bryce Harper's left thumb brings good news

The Nationals got a dose of good news on a night All-Star catcher Wilson Ramos went down with a potentially serious knee injury, as Bryce Harper's X-ray came back negative, meaning there are no broken bones in his left thumb.

Harper, 23, suffered the injury sliding into third base on Sunday afternoon in Pittsburgh. He had the X-ray on Monday morning and the team is of course pleased to hear the results.

"He could be back within a couple days, a few days. That’s big right there," manager Dusty Baker said. "The swelling’s down, so I think his strength is up, I heard. It’s very positive. We still got time for him to get well.”

Getting Harper back soon would be huge for a Nationals team that just saw Ramos go down and recently saw Daniel Murphy injure his left buttock and Stephen Strasburg strain his right flexor mass.

Murphy's injury is also not expected to be serious. Baker even said on Monday that it's "very likely" he will be ready to go for the playoffs. But that's four of the Nats' five All-Stars now injured to varying degrees with just six games left in the regular season.

At least with Harper, they may have dodged a bullet.

[RELATED: Ramos set for MRI as Nats hope injury isn't serious]

SCROLL DOWN FOR MORE NATIONALS STORIES

Quick Links

Wilson Ramos set for MRI as Nats hope and pray injury isn't serious

Wilson Ramos set for MRI as Nats hope and pray injury isn't serious

The Nationals know this feeling all too well, the anxious wait for test results to determine the severity of an injury to a star player. The latest, with All-Star catcher Wilson Ramos, includes an MRI set for Tuesday morning.

Ramos suffered a right knee injury on Monday night against the Arizona Diamondbacks in the top of the sixth inning, the same knee in which he tore his ACL and MCL back in May of 2012. Ironically, Nationals manager Dusty Baker was also there for that one, in Cincinnati as the skipper of the Reds.

The Nats will hope and pray that this time it's not as serious.

"He doesn’t look too good tonight," Baker said. "You could tell he was in pain. We have to wait till tomorrow to come up with something definitive.”

Ramos buckled to the ground and pointed to his knee after a relay throw to home by Ryan Zimmerman sailed high over Ramos' head and required him to jump to catch it. The Nationals were playing on a wet field following a 20-minute rain delay and they believe the injury could be related.

“That probably had something to do with it. Yeah. Last time he hurt his leg it wasn’t an impact play either," Baker said. "We just got to pray for Wilson and hopefully he’s OK.”

The Nationals have already seen Stephen Strasburg go down with a right flexor mass strain, an injury that has put his postseason availability in question. Bryce Harper is currently out with a jammed left thumb. And Daniel Murphy has been out of the starting lineup for seven straight games with a strained left buttock.

Harper received good news on Monday that his X-ray was negative, but that's four of the team's five 2016 All-Stars who are banged up with just six games and 10 days left to go until the playoffs begin.

That's an unusual string of bad luck at a bad time to have it.

"My dad told me, ‘Don’t say what else can go wrong because something else can go wrong.’ I’m thinking what else can go right? I don’t think like that. I don’t allow myself to think like that," Baker said. 

"Those thoughts come into everybody’s head, but you’ve got to dispel them and try to figure out a way to get out of this mess. Bryce’s X-rays came out negative, so that’s a positive note in itself. It just seems like down this stretch you lose a guy, gain a guy. Like Stephen Drew. I’m glad we got Stephen Drew back. And who knows? Somebody else might step up and be the hero, the least likely of people. That’s how I think.”

Ramos earned his All-Star nod with a breakout season at the plate. He's batting .307 with 22 homers, 80 RBI and an .850 OPS. He has the lowest catcher's ERA in baseball and has emerged as one of the best backstops in the game, right before he's set to hit free agency this winter for the first time in his career.

Losing Ramos would be devastating for the Nationals at this point in the year.

"He’s a leader of this team. It’s a tough break, really is," Drew said. "It didn’t look too good. My thoughts and all these guys on this team hope for the best for him and we’ll be thinking about him.”

Everyone in the Nationals' clubhouse is pulling for Ramos, but Baker knows the Nats will have to keep going if his injury is serious. Backup catchers Jose Lobaton and Pedro Severino will have to step up in his absence, however long it is.

"I feel badly because you know how we all feel about Wilson, but it’s part of the game," Baker said. "You hate (for) it to happen this late, right before the playoffs, but our next step is try to figure out a way to play without Wilson. I’ve been mixing and matching this year and most of my life. Therefore it’s another obstacle and I just got to try to go back to the drawing board and figure out something."

[RELATED: Nationals on playing the Dodgers in NL Division Series round]

SCROLL DOWN FOR MORE NATIONALS STORIES