May 20, 2014, 10:08 PM EDT
GAME IN A NUTSHELL: Talk about an imposing matchup: The Nationals, who have scored the fewest runs in the majors in May and have struggled all season against right-handers, had to go up against the best pitcher in baseball to date. Johnny Cueto entered with a 1.25 ERA, the first pitcher modern baseball history to go at least seven innings and give up two or fewer runs in his first nine starts to a season.
So what happened? The Nationals scored eight runs off Cueto and knocked him out in the sixth inning. Of course. They batted around during a 7-run sixth, getting contributions from just about everyone. Denard Span led the way with a 5-for-5 performance at the plate. Danny Espinosa added a 2-run single, and birthday boy Jayson Werth, Tyler Moore and Jose Lobaton all added run-scoring hits to pace the attack.
The beneficiary of all that run support: Doug Fister, who in his Nationals Park debut was outstanding. The tall right-hander allowed two runs over seven innings, picking up where he left off last week in Arizona and erasing what doubts had emerged after his shaky season debut in Oakland.
HITTING HIGHLIGHT: It’s been a rough start to the season for Span, who entered tonight’s game with a .239 batting average, .287 on-base percentage and questions about his apparently secure spot atop the Nationals’ lineup. Matt Williams has been sticking with Span, though, and plans to continue to, because he believes the 30-year-old is his best option atop the lineup. Span then went out and rewarded his manager’s faith with a fantastic ballgame. He went 5-for-5 with two doubles, two RBI, two runs scored and a stolen base. By night’s end, Span raised his batting average to .263 and his OBP to .308. It’s only one game, but it’s a start.
PITCHING HIGHLIGHT: The Nationals love Fister not only because of his pitching ability but also because he is a complete player. He fields his position well. He handles the bat well. He runs the bases well. All of that was on display tonight. Fister worked fast, threw strikes and got quick outs, allowing only two runs over seven strong innings. He also made a couple of nice plays in the field, reached on an infield single and scored all the way from first base on Span’s single-plus-error. This is what the Nats believed they were getting all along in the right-hander, who over his last two starts has allowed three total runs in 14 innings.
KEY STAT: Span became the sixth player in Nationals history (2005-present) with a 5-hit game. The others: Ian Desmond (2011), Cristian Guzman (2009), Elijah Dukes (2008), Jesus Flores (2008) and Nook Logan (2007). Guzman is the only other one in the group to go 5-for-5.
UP NEXT: The series concludes with a 4:05 p.m. Wednesday matinee. Tanner Roark looks to improve to 4-1, with Reds right-hander Alfredo Simon looking to improve to 6-2.
NL EAST STANDINGS
FRI: Nats at Reds, 7:10 p.m.
SAT: Nats at Reds, 4:05 p.m.
SUN: Nats at Reds, 1:10 p.m.
MON: Nats at Marlins, 7:10 p.m.
TUE: Nats at Marlins, 7:10 p.m.
WED: Nats at Marlins, 12:40 p.m.
Full season schedule
ON THE RADIO
As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2014 schedule (subject to change)...
MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 1:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.
*All times Eastern. You can also listen to the station on 94.3 FM, 92.7 FM and online at ESPN980.com. Click here for past audio clips.
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