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Nats in April: Encouragingdiscouraging

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Nats in April: Encouragingdiscouraging

After a rough trip out west that ended with four consecutive losses to the Padres and Dodgers, the Nationals are enjoying a much-needed day of rest. So let's use this off-day, as well as the fact it's the final day of the month, to take a look at both the encouraging and discouraging developments of the season to date...

ENCOURAGING: The Nationals rotation has been, plain and simple, awesome. We're running out of superlatives to describe this group of starters, so let's just run through the stats. The rotation's collective ERA now stands at 1.78 (the Cardinals rank second in the majors at 2.57). Opponents are hitting .186 against Nationals starters. They rank second in the league with 129 strikeouts while issuing the second-fewest walks in the league (32). In 16 of 22 games to date, Nationals starters have surrendered zero or one earned run.

DISCOURAGING: Despite all those sparkling numbers, the Nationals' rotation has a collective record of 8-4. That's what happens when you've got a weak lineup and a bullpen that has blown four saves.

ENCOURAGING: Adam LaRoche just completed the best April of his career. The notorious slow starter has been the Nationals' most-productive and most-consistent player so far and enters May with a .329 average, a .415 on-base percentage, a .549 slugging percentage and a .964 OPS that ranks sixth among all qualifying hitters in the National League. Oh, and for those wondering, Prince Fielder's OPS right now is a pedestrian .832.

DISCOURAGING: With Michael Morse out since Opening Day with a strained lat muscle, the Nationals have received virtually zero production out of left field. Their combined stats from that position: a .111 average, .215 on-base percentage and .148 slugging percentage. Bryce Harper may struggle at times in his first taste of the big leagues, but he can't put up worse numbers than that, right?

ENCOURAGING: Remember when the Nationals were far and away the majors' worst-fielding club? Not anymore. They've committed only 11 errors in 22 games, tied with the Phillies and Cardinals for the fewest in the NL. If they handed out Gold Glove awards today, no fewer than five Nats would get serious consideration: LaRoche, Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa and Rick Ankiel.

DISCOURAGING: The defensive play has not been as crisp behind the plate, where Wilson Ramos has struggled. Ramos has had a difficult time holding onto throws from the outfield, he's had trouble preventing wild pitches from reaching the backstop and he's only thrown out 1 of 13 base stealers. That's in stark contrast to a year ago, when he gunned down an impressive 32 percent of runners.

ENCOURAGING: They don't get a lot of attention, but relievers Craig Stammen and Sean Burnett have been outstanding so far this season. Stammen has really taken to his first prolonged stint in the bullpen and boasts an 0.84 ERA, plus 12 strikeouts in 10 23 innings. Burnett, meanwhile, has picked up where he left off at the end of 2011. He's yet to allow a run and has put up a stellar 10-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio. The lefty has also stranded five of six inherited runners.

DISCOURAGING: As good as the pitching staff has been overall, the Nationals face a potentially tenuous situation in the ninth inning moving forward. Drew Storen had a bone chip removed from his right elbow and won't be ready to return until midsummer. Brad Lidge blew two of four save opportunities and now is on the DL with an abdominal strain. And Henry Rodriguez, who was brilliant for much of April, suffered a meltdown of epic proportions Saturday night in Los Angeles. The Nationals desperately need H-Rod to get back on track, because they're running out of viable options to pitch the ninth inning.

ENCOURAGING: The Nationals end April with a 14-8 record and share first place in the NL East with the Braves. Their .636 winning percentage represented their second-best month of baseball since arriving in Washington, bested only by the 20-6 (.769 winning percentage) mark the Nats produced in June 2005.

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Trea Turner has a career game as Nats clobber Reds

Trea Turner has a career game as Nats clobber Reds

WASHINGTON -- Michael Taylor homered twice among his four hits, Trea Turner finished 5 of 5 with a walk and the Washington Nationals beat the Cincinnati Reds 18-3 on Saturday.

Daniel Murphy had four RBIs for the Nationals. His three-run double highlighted the six-run second inning and Taylor's two-run homer capped a four-run fourth inning. Taylor added a solo shot in the sixth.

Turner, Ryan Zimmerman, Matt Wieters each drove in two runs. All of Turner's career-high five hits were singles including run-scoring hits in the second and eighth.

Washington led 13-0 as Joe Ross (4-3) blanked the Reds until Patrick Kivlehan's pinch-hit home run in the sixth. Ross surrendered one run and six hits over seven innings with five strikeouts and one walk.

In his first appearance since Aug. 28, Homer Bailey (0-1) allowed eight runs and six hits with three walks in 1 2/3 innings.

The Reds, who have lost 13 of 14, also gave up 17 runs on May 29 at Toronto.

Washington took the first two games of the series from the Reds after losing three of four.

Cincinnati activated the 31-year-old Bailey from the disabled list before the game. The right-hander had arthroscopic surgery to remove bone spurs in his right shoulder on Feb. 28.

Washington made Bailey's first outing of the season uncomfortable from the start. After Turner and Brian Goodwin opened the bottom of the first with a single and walk respectively, Zimmerman hit a one-out double into the right-center gap, scoring both runners.

Trailing 3-0 in the second, Bailey walked two batters to load the bases with two outs. Murphy cleared them with a line drive into the right-field corner and then scored on Anthony Rendon's double.

Reds reliever Lisalverto Bonilla surrendered five runs on eight hits, including both of Taylor's homers.

Bryce Harper had one of Washington's 19 hits, but he struck out three times before being lifted for a pinch-hitter in the sixth.

Kivlehan added an RBI single in the eighth.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Reds: Bailey was diagnosed with right biceps tendinitis following a one-inning start last August and eventually shut down for the season. He allowed two earned runs over 16 2/3 innings during three rehab starts before his recall Saturday. OF Jesse Winker was optioned to AAA-Louisville to make room for Bailey. ... LHP Brandon Finnegan, on the DL since Apr. 16 with a left shoulder injury, will start Monday, Reds manager Bryan Price said.

Nationals: Taylor's first four-hit game of his career came after being held out the lineup the previous two games with an undisclosed injury. The center fielder also tracked down Scooter Gennett's deep fly ball for a leaping catch just shy of the wall in the third.

UP NEXT

Reds: Scott Feldman (5-5, 4.20 ERA) leads Cincinnati with seven quality starts

Nationals: RHP Tanner Roark (6-4, 4.88) allowed 13 earned runs in 7 2-3 innings over his last two starts.

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Harper's 10th-inning single lifts Nationals past Reds 6-5

Harper's 10th-inning single lifts Nationals past Reds 6-5

WASHINGTON -- Bryce Harper singled in the winning run in the 10th inning, Brian Goodwin homered twice and the Washington Nationals got a solid performance from their bullpen in a 6-5 victory over the Cincinnati Reds on Friday night.

Anthony Rendon and Daniel Murphy also homered for the Nationals, who trailed 5-2 in the sixth before coming back to deal the Reds their 12th loss in 13 games.

Trea Turner singled off Raisel Iglesias (2-2) with one out in the 10th and took third on a single by Goodwin before Harper hit a liner that struck the right-field wall on one bounce.

Matt Albers (3-1) pitched the 10th to cap an impressive night for the Nationals' bullpen, a maligned group that blanked the Reds on one hit over the final five innings.

Goodwin homered in the first inning and again in the seventh, the first multihomer game of the rookie's career.

Scooter Gennett connected for the skidding Reds.

Seeking his ninth win, Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg gave up five runs and eight hits in five innings, walking two and striking out five. It was only the third time in 15 starts the right-hander allowed more than three earned runs, but it was also the third straight start in which he failed to go six innings.

Reds starter Luis Castillo pitched five effective innings in his major league debut and left with a 5-2 lead, but the Cincinnati bullpen deprived him of the victory. Castillo allowed two runs and five hits, walking five and striking out five.

The 24-year-old rookie was replaced by Michael Lorenzen, who promptly served up a home run to Murphy and gave up a sacrifice fly to pinch-hitter Stephen Drew later in the sixth.

Wandy Peralta took over in the seventh and, like Lorenzen, gave up a homer to the first batter he faced. Goodwin's drive to right made it 5-all.

Early on, Cincinnati dominated.

The Reds batted around in a four-run first inning that featured Gennett's 10th home run, a run-scoring fly ball by Scott Schebler and successive RBI singles from Devin Mesorasco and Jose Peraza.

Goodwin homered in the bottom half, but Mesoraco singled in a run in the third. The two-out bloop landed in front of Wilmer Difo, who was playing center field for the first time in the majors and pulled up as the ball dropped at his feet.