Quick Links

Nats' rain-delayed win is worth the wait

876795.png

Nats' rain-delayed win is worth the wait

Jayson Werth was ready to step to the plate for the bottom of the ninth inning, Heath Bell on the mound, the Nationals trailing by a run. And then a wall of black clouds appeared from behind the third base stands, a fierce wind kicked up and rain began falling in buckets as a storm system that produced a tornado only a few miles away in Northern Virginia overtook Nationals Park.

Thus the Nationals retreated to their clubhouse for what proved to be a 2-hour, 33-minute delay, followed by sudden word from the umpires' room the game was about to resume.

"We had like 11 minutes," Werth said. "An 11-minute warning. Usually they give you 20 or 30. Today was 11. And it turned out to be the right number."

Indeed, because 11 minutes were all the Nationals needed to restart their engines, retake the field and ultimately retake a ballgame that will long be remembered as one of the wildest (and most satisfying) in club history.

Werth's towering home run off Bell to open the bottom of the ninth tied the game and sent it to extra innings. That set the stage for September call-up Corey Brown to loft the game-winning single to right in the bottom of the 10th, the final blow in a 7-6 victory that was witnessed by only a couple hundred faithful fans but resonated far beyond the confines of South Capitol Street.

With perhaps their most improbable win of an improbable season, the Nationals moved one step closer to their first NL East title, maintaining their 6 12-game lead over the also-victorious Braves while lowering their magic number to 17.

That they did so under such unusual circumstances, at the end of a long day at the ballpark that began with news of Stephen Strasburg's immediate shutdown by management, only sweetened the mood.

"You guys had to rewrite a few stories, huh?" manager Davey Johnson said with a smile as he sat down for his postgame news conference. "What a game."

The dramatic rally actually began in the bottom of the eighth, when Ryan Zimmerman clubbed a two-run homer off Miami reliever A.J. Ramos to bring the Nationals to within one run. They were champing at the bit to complete the rally in the bottom of the ninth, only to have everything put on hold when the storm arrived.

So as fans rushed to take cover while getting doused, players retreated to the clubhouse to catch some college football on TV and grab a snack. They didn't know when -- or if -- the game would resume, and indeed for a moment it appeared the umpires might call the game and award an eight-inning victory to the Marlins.

"I was really worried, and so was general manager Mike Rizzo," Johnson said. "He was worried that they would bang it. We kept hoping they'd hold on, because I think it was real close. It just looked like there wasn't going to be much window. And Riz said, 'Let's wait 15 minutes,' or something, and we did."

Thus the game was restarted in rapid-fire fashion, with Bell retaking the mound more than 2 12 hours after he originally did, and Werth stepping to the plate to lead off the bottom of the ninth. He worked the count full, fouling off two 3-2 pitches before finally connecting on a fastball and sending it soaring into the Red Porch area beyond the left-center field fence.

"Once I got to 2-2, I figured he probably wasn't going to be messing around with any breaking stuff," Werth said. "He's got a good fastball and likes to work up in the zone, and I got a pitch that was probably top of the zone but was up just enough."

The game proceeded into extra innings, with Drew Storen striking out the side to complete a dominant performance by the back end of the Nationals bullpen. Storen, Tyler Clippard and rookie Christian Garcia combined to retire nine of the 10 batters they faced, eight via strikeout.

"Nice," said Storen when informed of the strikeout total. "Yeah, that's usually a pretty good sign right there."

The game-winning rally developed over the course of five batters, ignited by Adam LaRoche's single off reliever Chad Gaudin, then boosted by Ian Desmond's base hit to right, with the slow-footed LaRoche chugging all the way around to slide safely headfirst into third base.

"I mean, he's not your fastest runner," Johnson said. "But he had made up his mind: He was going to third, and he did a heck of a job. Haven't seen him slide headfirst -- ever -- so you know emotions were running high."

With runners now on the corners and nobody out, the Marlins intentionally walked Danny Espinosa, loading the bases and forcing manager Ozzie Guillen to shift left fielder Justin Ruggiano to a spot just in front of second base as part of a five-man infield.

And when Kurt Suzuki immediately pounded a groundball right to Ruggiano, who fired to the plate for the wholly unconventional, 7-2 force out, the Nationals suddenly had to wonder whether their luck had run out.

"I have never seen it work," Johnson said of the five-man infield. "That was the first time I'd ever seen it work."

No worries, because moments later Brown stepped to the plate and delivered the game-winner. After sitting around for six hours playing no role whatsoever in the ballgame, the 26-year-old rookie lofted a soft liner to right field, the ball glancing off Giancarlo Stanton's glove and falling to the ground as Desmond crossed the plate with the winning run.

"In my situation, you got to always be ready to pinch-hit at any time," Brown said. "I had some confidence in myself. I was just trying to relax a little bit in that situation."

Brown may have been relaxed in the moment, but as soon as he reached first base and was mobbed by teammates, there was nothing but excitement on display from the best team in baseball after one of its signature wins of the season.

So what if it happened three hours after everyone originally hoped it would. It was still well worth the wait.

"Oh, yeah," Johnson said. "Got to use everybody. It was fun."

Quick Links

Nats rotation remains in flux: how Lopez' workload and Giolito fit in

Nats rotation remains in flux: how Lopez' workload and Giolito fit in

The Nationals' starting rotation has been a work in progress ever since Joe Ross went down with right shoulder inflammation on July 3 in a start against the Reds. Since that day, they've tried three different rookies with varying levels of failure and success. Unfortunately for them, it's been much more the former than the latter.

It was already a complicated and precarious situation, and then Stephen Strasburg landed on the disabled list with right elbow soreness on Monday. Even with Ross making progress on Tuesday by throwing a bullpen session, the Nationals starting group is currently a patchwork operation.

This weekend they will yet again have decisions to make as to which rookie starts and when. A.J. Cole is lined up to start Saturday against the Rockies and is likely to do so. Sunday would be Reynaldo Lopez' turn, but Lopez got blasted by the Orioles on Tuesday and lasted just 2 2/3 innings. Like the O's, the Rockies are a tough opponent, no matter the ballpark.

Cole going Saturday and Lopez on Sunday appears to be the plan for now, but Lucas Giolito is another name to watch. The former first round pick tossed just one inning for Triple-A Syracuse on Tuesday night as a plan to set him up for this weekend.

"If necessary," manager Dusty Baker said of the plan for Giolito. "You want him to sharpen up to get some work, but you don't want him to overwork in case we need him. Who knows? We don't think that we will need him right now because of the way [Cole] pitched the other day. That was just in case because you don't know. You don't know until you get to that day and you still don't know what you're going to get come Saturday."

Another factor to keep in mind is the workload of each young pitcher, particularly for Lopez who is already at 127 2/3 innings this season combined between the minor leagues and the majors. His previous career-high for one year was 99 innings, set in 2015. Before that, in 2014, he pitched 83 1/3 innings.

Lopez is already in uncharted territory, but the Nationals aren't close to shutting him down or shifting him to the bullpen.

"That subject really hasn't come up right now, yet," he said. "Do we put too much emphasis in workload, or are we not sometimes overworking them? I think it varies per person. He doesn't look like he's tired to me. Who is to replace these guys? How many replacements do you have if you want to win the pennant? It doesn't work both ways."

Baker, who has been criticized for his handling of young starting pitchers in the past, then explained how the Nats have a lot at stake this season. They will do their best to look out for young pitchers, but also have World Series aspirations in mind.

"It's hard to have it both ways. You try to monitor it, but at the same time you're trying to win. The teams that are in the playoffs a lot, the teams that are in the playoffs a lot in basketball and football, they don't get many breaks. LeBron James and these guys, how many breaks have they gotten from being in consecutive playoff situations? They're playing 20 percent of their season in the playoffs every year. It's hard to have it both ways," he said.

[RELATED: Lopez rocked as Nats suffer lopsided loss to Orioles]

SCROLL DOWN FOR MORE NATIONALS STORIES

Quick Links

Tanner Roark starts as Nats look for better luck against Orioles

Tanner Roark starts as Nats look for better luck against Orioles

Nats (73-52) at Orioles (69-56) at Nationals Park

The Nationals didn't have much luck in Baltimore, as they dropped the first two games of their four-game set against the Orioles. On Wednesday, the series tilts to Washington where the Nats return home for the first time since Aug. 14. 

Tanner Roark (13-6, 2.87) will get the start, and it's coming at a good time for the Nats. He's their most consistent pitcher at going deep in games and their bullpen could use some help after Reynaldo Lopez made it just 2 2/3 innings on Tuesday.

Starting for Baltimore will be lefty Wade Miley (7-10, 5.58). Like Lopez, he got shelled in his last outing when he gave up six earned runs in just 1 2/3 innings against the Astros.

First pitch: 7:05 p.m.
TV: MASN
Radio: 106.7 The Fan
Starting pitchers: Nats - Tanner Roark vs. Orioles - Wade Miley

NATS

CF Trea Turner
LF Jayson Werth
2B Daniel Murphy
RF Bryce Harper
3B Anthony Rendon
C Wilson Ramos
1B Ryan Zimmerman
SS Danny Espinosa
RHP Tanner Roark

ORIOLES

TBA
LHP Wade Miley

CLICK HERE FOR LIVE STATS AND SCORES

Quick Links

Stock Watch: Harper, Zimmerman looking like themselves again

Stock Watch: Harper, Zimmerman looking like themselves again

Each week this season, we’ll take the temperature of the Nationals roster to see which player's stock is rising or falling.  

Record: 3-4

Team slash: .283/.359/.454

Team ERA: 5.79

Runs per game: 6.6 

 

STOCK UP 

Ryan Zimmerman, 1B: .375 AVG, HR, 1.014 OPS

Zimmerman announced his return from the disabled list with authority last weekend in Atlanta, hammering the first pitch he saw into left field for a solo home run. The blast was just the beginning; he’s 6-for-16 since he’s been back, getting solid contact even when he doesn’t get a hit. We’re talking about a very small sample size, of course, but a resurgent Zimmerman would mean wonders for the bottom of the Nats lineup.

Bryce Harper, RF: .357 AVG, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 1.026 OPS

Like Zimmerman, Harper’s going to have to be consistent for a little while longer before fans feel like he’s truly back to his old self. Still, the past week and a half have been a welcome sight for an offense that needs him to look like the reigning NL MVP. He’s posted multi-hit efforts in five out of his last 10 games, notching five extra-base hits over that span. For comparison, that’s the same amount of extra-base hits he had throughout the month of July.

Numbers aside, Harper has simply looked relaxed at the plate lately; he’s no longer chasing pitches out of the strike zone, instead reclaiming his patient approach. Even if he may not be able to completely salvage his season, a strong finish would be a huge boost for the Nats.    

STOCK DOWN 

Stephen Strasburg, SP: 1.2 IP, 9 ER, 15-day disabled list

Even if it’s a precautionary measure, there still has to be slight concern that Strasburg is headed to the disabled list with right elbow soreness. The 28-year-old right hander said Monday that his arm recovery between starts had been getting increasingly difficult, but the discomfort never affected him during his performances. Who knows if there was truly a correlation between the elbow issues and his recent 0-3 skid, but the Nats are hoping that time off will do him some good. With the postseason less than six weeks away, will Strasburg be fully rested and ready to go in October? 

Reynaldo Lopez, SP: 1-1, 4.66 ERA, 1.66 WHIP

While Lopez had two good outings recently, both of them were against the lowly Atlanta Braves. Against contenders like the San Francisco Giants, Los Angeles Dodgers and Baltimore Orioles? He’s 0-2 with a 10.32 ERA. Granted, he’s still in the infancy of his major-league career, and was only inserted in the rotation because Joe Ross is out with injury. That said, with Strasburg also gone now, it’s up to the back end to create some semblance of stability for the next few weeks.