Apr 8, 2014, 10:06 PM EDT
GAME IN A NUTSHELL: On a chilly April evening, the pitchers figured to be ahead of the hitters. And sure enough, that was true for Gio Gonzalez and Henderson Alvarez. The two young starters combined to allow only one run through 5 1/2 innings. That’s not to say Gonzalez was in top form; he racked up a much higher pitch count than necessary and had to be pulled after six innings. But he got the job done before handing things over to a rested Nationals bullpen.
Alvarez, meanwhile, deserved a better fate, but the right-hander wasn’t helped by his defense and surrendered a couple of clutch hits. Adam LaRoche and Bryce Harper used their legs to create a run in the bottom of the sixth, and Anthony Rendon used his bat to add three insurance runs late.
Toss in three scoreless innings of relief from Jerry Blevins, Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Aaron Barrett, and the Nationals had themselves a nice-and-tidy, shutout victory to open this series. They’re 5-2 overall and feeling much better about themselves after a shaky weekend against the Braves.
HITTING HIGHLIGHT: Perhaps the name of this category should be switched to “Baserunning Highlight” tonight, because that was the difference for the Nationals. Matt Williams has been preaching aggressiveness on the bases, and while that sometimes comes back to haunt them (coughFridaycough) it can also pay big dividends as it did tonight. With two outs in the sixth and runners on the corners, a pitch got away from catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, only about five feet. LaRoche didn’t hesitate, though, and took off for second base with abandon. Saltalmacchia’s throw did beat him to the bag, but second baseman Jeff Baker couldn’t make the tag, so LaRoche was safe. Meanwhile, Harper bolted off third base and scored without a throw. That’s a perfect example of the aggressiveness Williams would like to see from his team.
PITCHING HIGHLIGHT: This was kind of a classic Gio Gonzalez start. In both good and bad ways. The good: Gonzalez gave up very few hard-hit balls. All three hits he allowed were singles, one of them a bunt. And he didn’t let anybody cross the plate. Or even come close to crossing the plate. The bad: He rarely managed to get quick outs. He walked two, but worse than that, had trouble putting hitters away and thus wound up with a whopping pitch count of 101 after only six innings, even though he struck out a modest five batters. For one night, the Nationals can live with that kind of inefficiency. Over the long haul, that’s not what they want to see out of their lefty.
KEY STAT: Adam LaRoche, a career .214 hitter in March and April, is now hitting .348 through the season’s first seven games.
UP NEXT: The series continues Wednesday night, when Jordan Zimmermann (bumped up to keep him on normal, five days’ rest) takes the mound for the Nationals still seeking his first win of the season. Right-hander Jacob Turner starts for the Marlins. Ryan Zimmerman may be back at third base if he makes it through a pregame workout with no major shoulder issues.
COUNTDOWN TO OPENING DAY
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As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...
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