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Trip salvaged, now Nats ready for Harper’s return

Jun 29, 2014, 12:33 AM EST


CHICAGO — Forget who you’re playing or what the circumstances suggest, a doubleheader sweep is no sure thing. Now play that doubleheader at the end of a 7-game road trip, in sweltering humidity interrupted only by a 55-minute downpour, needing to win both ends of the twinbill to salvage a series split and maintain your spot tied atop the division.

So don’t underestimate what the Nationals did over the course of 10 hours at Wrigley Field on Saturday: a 3-0 victory over the Cubs in the opener, then a 7-2 thumping of the home team in the nightcap.

“They’re never easy,” said Adam LaRoche, who drove in three runs while playing all 18 innings. “You suck it up, work through it. I think it’s tougher on a manager than anybody, trying to figure out who needs a day [off], who’s barking, how the bullpen is. But it’s a good way to end a series here that we had a pretty poor start to those first two games. It was nice to get these two today.”

Indeed, the Nationals left town in a much better mood than they would have had they split the first scheduled doubleheader at Wrigley Field in 31 years — the byproduct of Sunday’s Chicago Pride Parade in the neighborhood — or, even worse, had they been swept.

They’ll enjoy a highly unusual Sunday off, then open an 8-game homestand with their last (and perhaps most-important) long-awaited reinforcement coming off the disabled list: Bryce Harper. The 21-year-old slugger, out since April 26 with a torn thumb ligament, is on track to return Monday night against the Rockies, providing a huge boost to a Nationals club that to this point has been able to field its full Opening Day lineup this season for a grand total of seven innings.

Oh, and did you hear what Harper did during Saturday night’s rehab appearance with Class AA Harrisburg at Akron?

“I did,” manager Matt Williams said with a smile. “He hit into a double play. … He also did a couple other things.”

Actually, Harper did three other things. All three were home runs.

Harper’s looming return will boost the Nationals’ lineup while also forcing Williams to make some tough decisions about playing time (and playing position) for several key regulars. Saturday’s doubleheader, meanwhile, forced him to make some more tough choices, but the rookie manager navigated his way through it with no problems.

It certainly helped when Gio Gonzalez churned out seven scoreless innings in the opener, setting the tone for the entire day. The left-hander was coming off a Monday start in Milwaukee in which he tossed six shutout innings, but that night he needed 114 pitches to do it. This time, he pounded the strike zone from the very start, saw his fastball velocity go up a notch or two and needed only 99 pitches to complete seven innings and earn the win.

“From the last start to this start, it’s just building confidence and velocity,” said Gonzalez, who has now made three starts since his DL stint for shoulder inflammation. “It shows it’s just building strength. Obviously coming from the DL and trying to come back, it’s just going to be a process. It’s not going to happen overnight. But it’s good to see that little-by-little, using the fastball and the changeup at the same time, it’s good to know that when you need them, they’ll be there.”

Gonzalez was aided by some spectacular defense in the fourth inning, all of it provided by Denard Span. The center field made a leaping, spinning catch at the ivy-covered brick wall for one out, then pulled off a double play moments later by charging in to catch a sinking liner and then throwing off-balance to first base in one continuous motion.

“You really can’t have good mechanics on a throw like that,” he said. “You’re running full speed. It’s just about the transfer. You see infielders with quick hands. It’s about trying to catch the ball and trying to get rid of it as fast as possible.”

For the nightcap, the Nationals utilized MLB’s allowance of a 1-day, 26th man call-up from the minors and handed the ball to Blake Treinen. The rookie right-hander had already flashed his impressive stuff in four previous starts, but he had yet to be given enough run support to emerge with a win.

This time, Treinen not only gutted out five solid innings — coming back to pitch after the 55-minute rain delay — but he also benefited from his teammates’ 6-run barrage on Cubs ace Jeff Samardzija. Thus, there was a ball waiting for him at his locker, signifying his first career win.

Treinen was immediately optioned back to Class AAA Syracuse, but he knows he’ll be summoned again at some point.

“I know my role this year,” he said. “It’s kind of doing whatever they ask me to do at any given day. And I’m OK with that. Ideally, everybody wants to [be here] long-term. But right now, I understand my role is to help the team out when they need it. And I’m OK with that.”

Besides, who wasn’t in a good mood at the end of a long day that included not one, but two victories to wrap up an eventful road trip.

“It’s nice to win the last two,” Williams said. “It started out well, and then the middle part was not so good. To come back and win, generally it’s difficult to sweep a doubleheader anyway. So it’s nice to end it on that note.”

  1. sjm308 - Jun 29, 2014 at 12:45 AM

    Have to love it!
    4-3 on the road
    Coming back to DC with a day off and in first place (or 1/2 game back depending on Sunday)
    Zimmnn on the mound against the Rockies who have been struggling
    Just keep winning series and things will take care of themselves.
    With Espinosa benched for these last two games, I think its obvious that Rendon moves to 2nd and Zimm moves to 3rd

    Go Nats!!

  2. Sec 3 My Sofa - Jun 29, 2014 at 12:48 AM

    So which ball, exactly, did Blake get? It was also Detwiler’s first save.

  3. sjm308 - Jun 29, 2014 at 12:52 AM

    Colorado has gone 1-9 in their last ten.
    They have to play again tomorrow and then fly to DC
    We will be home and resting while they play Sunday
    We have one of the top pitchers in baseball going on Monday pitching in his home park that will be packed not only due to our first place position but because of the Harper bobble head.
    This kid that Colorado is throwing gave up 5 runs vs. St. Louis in his first start and I have to think we will great him with great anticipation.
    Ready to see us go on a roll and end next week with a commanding lead in our quest for not only the NL East crown but a berth in the WS.

    Go Nats!!

  4. David Proctor - Jun 29, 2014 at 1:10 AM

    Video of Harper’s 3 homers:

    • Joe Seamhead - Jun 29, 2014 at 6:09 AM

      Thanks, David. I sure hope that he is just getting warmed up before turning red hot on his return!

    • knoxvillenat - Jun 29, 2014 at 6:17 AM

      Thanks David, great way to start my morning!

    • nats128 - Jun 29, 2014 at 7:50 AM

      MLB Network also did a Bryce Harper segment with that video in there Quick Pitch show. I saw yours first. Thanks for a great start to my morning.

    • dcwx61 - Jun 29, 2014 at 10:32 AM

      Thanks DP, He didn’t miss any of those pitches up in the zone.

  5. Joe Seamhead - Jun 29, 2014 at 3:51 AM

    I am thrilled to see Ross Detwiler pitching with confidence and seemingly not just accepting his role, but taking it on with piss and vinegar. I sure hope that Jerry Blevins gets back on track. This team needs him to be the guy that they thought they were getting when they traded for him.

  6. Joe Seamhead - Jun 29, 2014 at 4:59 AM

    Hate to bring up a huge negative, but it is relevant to Harper’s return:
    For the month of June our starting left fielder in 26 games and 100 AB’s has hit .190 with a .268 OBP.
    In his last 10 games he has hit .175

    • nats128 - Jun 29, 2014 at 7:45 AM

      Them facts are the facts and only the facts. Still better than that 2nd baseman. Both havent done much with the bats.

    • therealjohnc - Jun 29, 2014 at 10:46 PM

      Zimmerman has always been a hot and cold hitter, prone to long droughts and then long hot streaks. Remember 2012? He was terrible the first three months, and awesome the last three months. Zim is Zim – while no one can predict the future, it’s a much safer bet to figure that Zim’s final season numbers are closer to his career norms than they are to the numbers you cite.

  7. ArVAFan - Jun 29, 2014 at 5:08 AM

    Desi really needs a day off. They weren’t charged as errors, but he did mishandle two ground balls in the second game. He did get a hit, so maybe that will help. I hope he gets some time off to relax on Sunday , and comes back focused for the second half.

    Also from the game, I got to meet Matt of Matt’s Bats (blog) and his dad. That is an advantage of wearing your name on your shirt: people you haven’t met can find you in Wrigley during a rain delay.

    I did get a game-used ball from Trienen’s first win. There were only two available: the guy at the kiosk said they were saving most of them for Trienen.

  8. nats128 - Jun 29, 2014 at 7:48 AM

    Gio averaged 14 pitches per inning. You have to like that as that is efficiency for Gio.

  9. rabbit433 - Jun 29, 2014 at 8:29 AM

    RZ should join Espi on the bench. IMO he can’t be trusted to make contact when it is needed. I also don’t trust his arm. Who will replace him? Beats me. I’m not the manager. I’m a fan who is never wrong! That being said, the Nationals should win the NL East.

  10. Theophilus T.S. - Jun 29, 2014 at 8:40 AM

    Notwithstanding the quality of the opposition, the DH sweep was very reassuring. Gonzalez going seven on 99 pitches, only two walks, is pleasantly stunning. Unlike Jordan, Treinen is a bona fide ready-for-prime time ML pitcher. The position as sixth starter for the rest of the season is filled. Detwiler threw at least three Golden Yellowhammers, two of them strikes that dropped out of the sky and crossed the plate. That will scramble opposition scouting reports in a way that will benefit him and the Nats a great deal. McLouth hit, both games. He has hit around .240 in June; had he done that all season, people wouldn’t be complaining (so much). Not that it looks like he’ll get much playing time.

    The downer is Desmond. He’s always swung at a lot of bad pitches — now it looks like he can’t tell the difference between a good pitch and a bad one. Maybe he should have taken the extension he was offered. If he doesn’t step up against Tulowitzki I’d sit him down for 3-4 days.

    • Joe Seamhead - Jun 29, 2014 at 9:02 AM

      Good post, Theo.I agree about Blake being very much ready, and kudos to him for understanding, and accepting his role. As to Master Det, with a fairly comfortable lead, yesterday was a perfect time to throw his off speed pitches and to start getting confident doing so.And regarding Nate McLouth? I think starting tomorrow he is the Nats fourth outfielder, not the fifth. We’ll see.And again, you are spot on regarding Desi seemingly having lost all perspective as to what to swing at and what not to. It’s reaching a very uncomfortable level. He has 4 more K’s than BJ, and is only 1 behind Ryan Howard for the most in all of MLB. Worrying about it when a guy reaches that level is not “putting too much emphasis on strikeouts.”

      Oh, and welcome back, Silly Wabbit!

  11. mrnat7 - Jun 29, 2014 at 8:59 AM

    Well Harper wearing #7 hits three home runs! When Harriston leaves next year, Harper should change to #7, he even looks better with that number!

  12. Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 29, 2014 at 9:00 AM

    Denard Span’s catch in the ivy got #8 play in ESPN Sportscenter Top 10

  13. Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 29, 2014 at 9:02 AM

    I’m tuned in for the Toe Nash story on Outside The Lines. I hope you’re watching.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 29, 2014 at 9:18 AM

      To think of the players that Dan Jennings as scouting director with the Devil Rays found in guys like Toe Nash, Elijah Dukes, Josh Hamilton. All 3 were amazing athletes. All 3 were very similar in troubled backgrounds and substance abuse problems. Nash and Dukes had served time in jail.

      • natinalsgo - Jun 29, 2014 at 9:27 AM

        He also scouted and drafted Joey Gathright. Joey had many problems and was suspended for amphetamines. I think after Jennings left Tampa they made “character” part of the drafting process.

        He also scouted and drafted BJ Upton 2nd overall. Plenty of rumors about BJ in the early years and that he was shadowed by a mentor to keep him out of trouble. I think the same for Josh Hamilton but guys figure out how to get in trouble all by themselves regardless.

  14. sjm308 - Jun 29, 2014 at 9:03 AM

    Did anyone else get a chuckle as Bryce did his best Mickey Mantle impression while wearing #7 as he crushed those 3 last night? I don’t follow #s all that much but 7 will always be “The Mick” in my memory. I think he is the best I ever got to see live. Did not see Clemente or Mays since there was no inter-league play back then.

    Go Nats

  15. micksback1 - Jun 29, 2014 at 9:06 AM

    very impressive, I really thought Nats would split. OK, MW, please start resting these boys now that Bryce is back!

  16. micksback1 - Jun 29, 2014 at 9:07 AM


    I saw Clemente twice play Mets back in 69

    a true stud of a player!!!

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 29, 2014 at 9:11 AM


      • sjm308 - Jun 29, 2014 at 10:17 AM

        Mick, I would have loved to see Roberto and Willie. What an era! I hope Bryce and Mike Trout bring that type of rivalry back. Have to say that Trout has jumped way ahead at this point, but there is still time.

        Go Nats!

      • Whynat - Jun 29, 2014 at 10:41 AM

        It looks like Harper has his old stroke back (at least vs AA pitching). Maybe fully fixing his thumb will prove to be the magic ingredient.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 29, 2014 at 10:49 AM

        Lets hope!

      • Section 222 - Jun 29, 2014 at 11:33 AM

        As a kid, I saw Clemente play many times, usually from the seats in RF behind him. My favorite memory was a game against the Mets (Bob Moose started the game), when much to my disappointment he didn’t play — until the 9th inning, Pirates trailing 3-0, when he led off with a pinch hit home run that touched off a rally and a walkoff 4-3 win. I have a framed picture of “the Great One” on my office wall.

        I think Bryce wears 34 because 3 and 4 = 7, the Mick’s number. Is there are he doesn’t ask Hairston to give it up?

    • adcwonk - Jun 29, 2014 at 11:13 AM

      I saw Mays play. In my mind (and many others) he was the Best. Player. Ever. He had an incredibly vicious swing. He covered everything in CF and an arm that couldn’t be beat (over 10 assists from CF 8 times, lead the league three times, and one year had an eye-popping *22*). Incredibly talented baserunner (Mr. Take-the-extra-base — led the league in triples three times, and in SB’s four straight years once). Even at age 40 he led he league in walks (helping him to lead the league in OBP). Led the league in WAR 9 times (and missed almost two full years in his prime for military service). Had to play his entire career in the Polo Fields (480 feet to dead center — that’s not a misprint) and windy Candlestick. He was a 5-tool player where he busted the charts in all five categories. All this with his 5’10” frame (170lbs).

      (BTW, Harper’s swing and baserunning reminds me of Mays).

      Most (every?) year, one of the greatest baseball writers alive (Joe Posnanski ) writes an article on Mays’ birthday.

      Here’s a recent excerpt (from

      There’s a famous story about Willie Mays scoring from third on an infield fly ball. It was while looking for the story that I came across a curious play-by-play from a game in 1967. The game happened on a Tuesday at the end of August, and it featured a Giants team that was 11 games back in the standings and a Dodgers team that was more than 20 games behind. The game was, in that way, the very definition of a baseball dog day. Willie Mays was 36 years old then. He was already a legend, already viewed as the best all-around player to ever play baseball. And he was in the middle of what was, by quite a lot, the worst year of his career to that point.

      The play-by-play reads like this.

      Bottom of the 5th. Giants leading Dodgers 4-1.

      – Willie Mays walk
      – Jack Hiatt single to RF (Mays scores)

      That’s it. That’s the whole masterpiece. Mays walks. Mays scores on follow-up single. What? How? Here’s the most amazing part of all: Mays had, by 1967, done these sorts of minor-miracles so many times, that the witnesses did not even feel the need to explain it anymore.

      See many more stories that will put a smile on your face.

  17. letswin3 - Jun 29, 2014 at 1:26 PM

    I just checked out Zack Walters minor league numbers this year vs last year, since it looks like Espinosa has fallen back into his predictable hitting stupor and he’s competing to again lead the NL in K’s. My hope is, and has been, that Walters could be a viable bench replacement for Danny, particularly since that’s where Danny will be when Bryce returns. The good news is that Zack’s batting average is 269 (his best in his three years at AAA), his power numbers are good and his walks have increased from ’13, but the bad news is that his strikeouts have actually increased to over 29% (from about 25% last season) of his ab’s in ’14 (minor league only) … a number that likely won’t impress anyone in the front office, or on this site either, for that matter. No suggestions here, just thought I would share my quick research.





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