Aug 15, 2014, 10:11 PM EDT
GAME IN A NUTSHELL: After a sweep of the Mets that catapulted them to a 6-game lead in the NL East, the Nationals returned home for the first of 10 games in 10 days on South Capitol Street. They faced a Pirates club that holds the NL’s best record since May 2, but they quickly seized control of this one and never let it go.
The Nationals pounced on right-hander Charlie Morton, scoring three runs in the bottom of the first, then adding two more in the bottom of the third to open up a 5-0 lead. Impressive as it was, they easily could have scored even more, putting 14 men on base in the game’s first five innings.
No matter. Despite a brief hiccup in the top of the fourth, Tanner Roark was effective (if not efficient). More importantly, the Nationals bullpen was lights-out. Jerry Blevins, Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard combined to retire all seven batters they faced, setting the stage for Rafael Soriano to secure his 29th save (though it only came after he allowed a two-out RBI single to Pedro Alvarez and put the tying runner on third).
Thus the Nationals opened this long homestand in style, winning their fourth straight and improving to a season-best 14 games over the .500 mark.
HITTING HIGHLIGHT: When the first six batters you send to the plate in a ballgame all reach safely, odds are this will be a good night for your team. Indeed, the Nationals were all over Morton in the bottom of the first. Denard Span singled. Asdrubal Cabrera walked. Anthony Rendon singled. Adam LaRoche singled home a run. Ian Desmond walked. And Bryce Harper drove home two more runs with a single. The damage could’ve been worse had Span not been thrown out trying to steal third base (an ill-advised gamble) and Wilson Ramos not grounded into a double play on the first pitch he saw. As it was, three runs were good enough to get this game started on the right foot.
PITCHING HIGHLIGHT: This was kind of a strange night for Roark. He only had one clean inning, but he was scored upon in only one frame: a 3-run fourth in which nothing went right for the right-hander. Roark gave up a double to Neil Walker, then grooved a slider to Starling Marte that wound up over the fence. A walk to Travis Snider proved costly when Pedro Alvarez doubled to right-center, bringing Snider home (though Wilson Ramos would’ve had him at the plate had he been able to handle a short-hop throw). Roark settled down after that, but his pitch count was shot. Having already thrown 107 pitches for the night, he was pulled with two outs in the sixth. It was the first time he failed to complete six innings in his last eight starts.
KEY STAT: Denard Span now has 13 games this season with three or more hits.
UP NEXT: The series continues Saturday night when a pair of left-handers take the hill. Gio Gonzalez will try to bounce back from a ragged start in Atlanta. He’ll be opposed by the Pirates’ Jeff Locke.
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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TUE: 2:30 p.m.
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