May 13, 2014, 6:00 AM EDT
If you weren’t able to stay awake through the conclusion of the Nationals’ 6-5 victory over the Diamondbacks late last night … well, you can be excused. It’s tough to ask anyone to stay up well past midnight for a mid-May ballgame out west.
You’re in luck, though, because your humble beat reporter is paid to stay up and watch these games, then offer the following observations on yet another dramatic, come-from-behind win for the Nats…
— This was the Nationals’ 11th comeback victory of the season. They’ve won 20 total games. That’s a fairly staggering rate, but this team isn’t showing many signs of disrupting the trend, so might as well just accept it as the defining characteristic of the 2014 Nats.
The big blows came in the top of the ninth, via a couple of surprising bats: Danny Espinosa and Kevin Frandsen. Espinosa absolutely hammered a 1-0 fastball from Arizona closer Addison Reed, sending it on a beeline over the right-field wall in approximately 3.5 seconds, to tie the game 5-5. Moments later, Frandsen belted a 2-0 fastball from Reed well over the fence in left-center to give the Nats the lead, his first home run since Aug. 31, 2013.
Throw in an earlier home run by Tyler Moore, and the biggest stars on this night were the guys currently being asked to fill in for injured regulars.
The Nationals entered the season touting their bench as a significant upgrade over last year’s unit, but while collectively those reserves have done well off the bench so far, they haven’t quite been able to make up for the significant losses of Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche. That’s going to have to change if this team is going to continue to hold the fort until those big guys return from the DL.
Moore should get the bulk of the playing time at first base while LaRoche heals from a strained quad. He has shown throughout his brief career that he’s more potent at the plate when getting consistent at-bats than he is when getting sporadic playing time. Counting last night’s game, Moore now boasts a .901 OPS when he’s in the Nationals’ lineup this season, compared to a scant .258 OPS when he comes off the bench.
Espinosa, meanwhile, had cooled off significantly since his impressive start to the season, entering last night’s game in a 7-for-48, zero-walk, 21-strikeout slump. Then came his laser beam of a homer in the ninth, perhaps the hardest he has hit a ball all year. The Nats don’t need him to keep homering, but they do need him to produce at an acceptable level until Zimmerman returns from his broken thumb.
Then there’s Frandsen, who has been perhaps the biggest surprise contributor to this club so far in 2014. Signed on the final day of spring training after getting released by the Phillies, the 31-year-old is hitting a nondescript .267 overall but is hitting a robust .357 (5-for-14) with five RBI in high-leverage situations.
— As has been pointed out before, the late-game offensive heroics wouldn’t have been possible without another shutdown performance from the Nationals’ bullpen, which collectively tossed 3 1/3 scoreless innings.
Jerry Blevins entered with two outs in the sixth and got Gerardo Parra to ground out. Aaron Barrett struck out MVP finalist Paul Goldschmidt and got Miguel Montero to ground into a double play to end the seventh. Tyler Clippard retired the side in the eighth to continue his recent upswing (eight consecutive scoreless appearances). And Rafael Soriano bounced back from his first blown save of the season to toss a scoreless ninth and wrap up this victory.
It may have been a rough weekend in Oakland, but the Nats bullpen remains one of this team’s true strengths.
— The stellar relief performance was necessary because Jordan Zimmermann labored through an uncharacteristically sub-par outing. Though on closer inspection, it may not have been that uncharacteristic after all.
Zimmermann was pitching on a full week’s rest thanks to off-days and the return of Doug Fister from the DL, and that hasn’t been a good thing for the right-hander throughout his career.
Zimmermann has made 61 starts on normal, four days’ rest, during which he has posted a 2.99 ERA while averaging 6.4 innings per appearance. He has made 60 starts on extra rest, with an ERA that jumps up to 3.89 while averaging only 5.8 innings.
Is it possible for a pitcher’s arm to feel “too good” when he takes the mound? In some cases, yes. And Zimmermann’s track record in these situations certainly suggests it applies to him.
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