May 25, 2014, 4:44 PM EST
GAME IN A NUTSHELL: They entered today on a four-game losing streak, with a sub-.500 record and mounting concern in the clubhouse. Yet the Nationals had to feel encouraged about their chances in their series finale at PNC Park, for several reasons: 1) They had Adam LaRoche back from the DL, 2) They were facing a left-hander in Francisco Liriano, and 3) They had Doug Fister on the mound.
LaRoche may not have made a whole lot of difference in his first game in 15 days — he went 1-for-4 with a walk — but the Nationals lineup as a whole was more productive than it had been since its breakout inning against Johnny Cueto on Tuesday. Denard Span and Anthony Rendon combined to reach base five times and scored four runs, and Ian Desmond dropped in a pair of opposite-field RBI singles to pace the Nationals’ well-balanced attack.
That was plenty of support for Fister, who was brilliant for five innings before faltering a bit in the sixth and getting a bit of a quick hook from manager Matt Williams. The move worked, though, with Craig Stammen getting two outs on one pitch and then combining with Aaron Barrett and Rafael Soriano to close out a much-needed victory.
So the Nationals — now 21-1 when they score at least four runs — head home a .500 club, still facing some challenges after a rough weekend but feeling a little better about themselves entering a big, nine-game homestand against the Marlins, Rangers and Phillies.
HITTING HIGHLIGHT: Though the return of LaRoche was the Nationals’ lineup was the big storyline entering the game, the best at-bats of the day came from the two guys at the top of the lineup. Span got things started right away with a rope of a double off Liriano on the game’s second pitch. He also singled in the fifth, stole second and scored on Rendon’s triple off the wall in right-center, the third time Rendon reached base in the game’s first five innings. Combined, those two reached base five times and scored four runs, some much-needed production from the top of a lineup that has struggled to score runs all season.
PITCHING HIGHLIGHT: Is there anybody the Nationals would rather have had on the mound today than Fister? He may not possess the pedigree of other members of their star-studded rotation, but his penchant for effectiveness, efficiency and steadiness made him the perfect man to take the ball for this must-win game. And Fister lived up to the reputation. He retired nine of the first 10 batters he faced and carried a shutout into the sixth. He responded to a Desmond error by inducing a 6-4-3 double play. Since his rough debut in Oakland, Fister has now allowed four total runs in 19 1/3 innings, striking out 15 while walking only one. He has been exactly what the Nationals expected him to be. And exactly what they needed today.
KEY STAT: Though their 23 steals rank 13th out of 15 NL clubs this season, the Nationals’ 85 percent success rate on stolen bases is best in the NL.
UP NEXT: After a flight home to D.C. tonight, the Nats don’t get much turnaround time before they’re back at the park for a 1:35 p.m. Memorial Day game against the Marlins. Tanner Roark starts the series opener against fellow right-hander Nathan Eovaldi.
FINAL NL EAST STANDINGS
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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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