NATIONALS STAY CONSISTENT AND ON TOP IN JULY

HARPER CIRCLES THE BASES IN NATS WIN

NATS ADD TO METS WOES:

Seven weeks ago, Bryce Harper walked the Nats off vs. the Mets. Monday, in his first game in N.Y., Harper hit a two-run homer in the game’s second at-bat, then broke a 10th-inning tie with an RBI single to open the floodgates in Washington’s win.

The Nationals had two good offensive innings Monday night, the first inning and the last inning, which happened to be the 10th inning as the Nat’s defeated the Mets 8-2.

What happened in between the first and last inning does not really matter when the end result is “W”.  Washington sent seven hitters to the plate in a two-run first inning before notching just one hit over the next eight frames as a 2-0 lead turned into an extra-inning ballgame under soggy conditions late at Citi Field.

It was a no-decision for starter Jordan Zimmermann, who was steady as ever, notching yet another six-inning outing to make it a perfect 20-for-20 this season. The right-hander, who scattered four hits and one run (a David Wright solo homer), has an ERA of 0.95 over his last six outings.

JORDAN ZIMMERMAN

“Every time you have a good start, you feel good,” Zimmermann said. “I mean, you always want to carry it over to the next start, and I have a pretty good streak going right now. Everything’s been working, so hopefully it continues.”

His effort was nearly wasted when Mike Gonzalez, in to finish the seventh, surrendered a game-tying home run on the first pitch he threw to Ike Davis, which the Mets’ cleanup hitter drove on a line just inside the right-field foul pole and over the wall.

But Ryan Mattheus and Gorzelanny held serve in the latest stages of the game while the Mets’ bullpen — which was also taxed in the teams’ series last week in Washington — faltered in the 10th.

Roger Bernadina, helping to fill the void left by All-Star shortstop Ian Desmond’s stint on the disabled list that officially began Monday, singled to lead off the inning.

After the Mets failed to turn a 1-6-3 double play, the bases became loaded for Harper with one out against right-hander Pedro Beato. Harper delivered against the drawn-in infield, lacing a line drive over a leaping Daniel Murphy at second to score Sandy Leon from third. Zimmerman, up next, crushed a double to the right-center-field gap before Morse homered to blow the game wide open.

Fresh off a 4-3 homestand (2-1 vs. NYM, 2-2 vs. ATL), the Nationals began a 7-game road trip Monday night that includes stops in The Big Apple (3, Mon.-Wed.) and Cream City (4, Thu.-Sun.).Among NL cities/ballparks, the Nationals (‘05-pres.) have played their best road ball in Flushing (34-32, .515), including a .500 (15-15) mark at Citi Field, and among their worst at Miller Park (6-18, .250), which rates just ahead of Dodger Stadium (.217 winning percentage) and Busch Stadium (.238, includes a 1-2 mark at old Busch Stadium).

Here is a look back at the weekend series vs. the Braves, that began in a way that could have been damaging to the season’s outcome. The recaps were pulled from MLB.com’s Nationals recap portion of the game page

FRIDAY JULY 20: BRAVES 11 NATIONALS 10

STRASSBURG STRUGGLES AS DOES HIS TEAM

Staging an improbable rally after falling in a nine-run hole, the Braves stunned the first-place Nats in an 11-inning victory to draw to 2 1/2 games in the NL East. Paul Janish plated the game-winning run after the contest went into extra innings.

Nationals manager Davey Johnson was not at a loss for words following his team’s loss in a game in which they blew a nine run lead. “Arguably the worst game I’ve ever managed in my life,” Johnson said. “I’ve never lost a nine-run lead when it’s my job to handle the pitching. It’ll be hard for me to sleep. I had a worse night than the guys did.”

Entering the sixth inning down, 9-0, the Braves were staring at the possibility of falling 4 1/2 games back in the National League East. But they cut their deficit to one run by the end of the eighth, took a short-lived ninth-inning lead and then overcame a rare blown save by Craig Kimbrel to win for the ninth time in their past 11 games.

Starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg battled through early command issues into the sixth inning, when he finally hit a wall. Strasburg, who has lost to the Braves more (three times) than any other opponent and has a career 4.69 ERA against Atlanta, threw just 57 of his 103 pitches for strikes.

Drew Storen, pitching on consecutive days in his first two appearances of the year, and lefty Sean Burnett  entered the game and failed miserably.  The duo combined to allow three hits and three walks in the eighth inning alone, as Atlanta battled to cut the lead to 9-8.

And, suddenly, a blowout had become a save situation. In came Tyler Clippard, shaky already in two appearances this week. He was no better Friday, issuing a walk and a wild pitch, then hitting a batter before Michael Bourn laced a two-run, go-ahead triple off the scoreboard in right field in the ninth.

Over his last three outings, Clippard has blown two saves. He’s allowed six hits and seven earned runs, spanning three total innings since Tuesday.  Tied at 10 in the 11th, a Dan Uggla infield single off Tom Gorzelanny turned into a two-bagger when Zimmerman threw the ball away. Uggla came around to score on a bloop single, and the Braves would celebrate a victory.

The agony of the defeat is compounded by the fact that the Nationals tore through six pitchers in a game that seemed all but over midway through. With a doubleheader looming Saturday, the club must find a way to recoup in a matter of hours. Their lead over the Braves in the NL East has been cut to 2 1/2 game.

DOUBLEHEADER  SATURDAY JULY 21:

GAME 1: BRAVES 4 NATIONALS 0

BEN SHEETS CELEBRATES WIN OVER NATS

Ben Sheets’ tremendous run with the Braves continued with six shutout innings in the front end of a doubleheader. Brian McCann and Chipper Jones backed him with homers. Edwin Jackson was on the losing end despite fanning nine in seven innings.

The Nationals and their bullpen got just what they needed from Edwin Jackson on Saturday, but the ‘pen couldn’t help itself, and the offense went silent in a 4-0 loss to the Braves, just hours after a debilitating defeat the night before.

The club was shut out for just the second time this season, wasting a superb outing from Jackson, who matched a season high with nine strikeouts. The surging Braves, with their 10th victory in their last 12 games, have now moved to just 1 1/2 games back of the first-place Nationals in the National League East with two games (including the second of a day-night doubleheader Saturday) remaining in the four-game weekend set.

GAME 2: NATIONALS 5 BRAVES 2

JOHN LANNAN

After shaking off rust in a two-run first, John Lannan retired 13 of the last 14 Braves he faced in the nightcap for a gutsy 2012 debut as the Nats restored a 2 1/2-game lead in the National League East standings after losing Game 1.

 If one inning is all John Lannan needed to get acclimated to playoff-pressure baseball, the Nationals will more than take it. The 27-year-old left-hander made his season debut for the Nats, giving up just a pair of runs in the first inning in a 5-2 win over the Braves in the second game of a day-night doubleheader Saturday night at Nationals Park.

In front of a sold-out crowd of 40,047 fans, Lannan joined the Nats after spending the season to date in Triple-A Syracuse. He pitched a solid seven innings, allowing just the two runs on five hits. Lannan also struck out three Braves while walking two on 98 pitches. The win is Lannan’s first since September 21, 2011.

The Nationals managed only three hits through four innings, but their bats came alive in the fifth. A Danny Espinosa walk and Sandy Leon single put runners on first and second with one out, and Lannan came to the plate already having notched a single in the third. Lannan laid down a textbook sacrifice bunt to advance the runners to second and third. A wild pitch from Braves starter Randall Delgado scored Espinosa on the next play. Delgado earned a no-decision through six innings of two-run, six-hit ball.

With Bryce Harper held out of the nightcap’s starting lineup after fouling a ball off his left ankle in the first game, Roger Bernadina stepped in at center field. Batting in Harper’s No. 2 spot in the order, Bernadina was 5-for-7 on the day, including 3-for-4 in Game 2 with a run scored. In the seventh inning, he delivered one of Washington’s most important hits of the year with a two-out single off Braves reliever Cristhian Martinez, scoring Leon from second base and giving the Nationals the 3-2 lead.

Harper entered the game as a pinch-hitter for reliever Sean Burnett in the eighth, knocking a single to left field, stealing second base and then scoring on Espinosa’s single. Espinosa later scored on a throwing error by Braves shortstop Paul Janish.

SUNDAY JULY  22: NATIONALS 9 BRAVES 2

Ryan Zimmerman went deep twice for three RBIs, Michael Morse had three hits, scoring each time, and Ross Detwiler turned in a solid outing for the Nats, who split a four-game series with the Braves and built their NL East lead back to 3 1/2 games..

With another strong outing from Ross Detwiler and the continued tear Ryan Zimmerman has enjoyed at the plate, Sunday afternoon capped a day-and-night reversal from the beginning of the Nationals’ weekend.

After dropping the first two of four games against the Braves — including an 11-inning heartbreaker on Friday night — the Nats enjoyed a 9-2 win in the series finale Sunday at Nationals Park. The Nationals now begin a seven-day road trip with a 3 1/2-game lead over the Braves in the National League East, the same margin they held entering the series.

Detwiler set forth perhaps his finest effort of the year, throwing seven innings for the first time this season and allowing only two runs (one earned) on seven hits. He struck out three Braves and walked just one, providing the Nats’ bullpen some extended relief after the rigors of Friday’s protracted game and Saturday’s day-night doubleheader.

Detwiler also earned his first win since May 3 after taking no-decisions in each of his last five starts. Craig Stammen pitched the final two innings, allowing only one hit. Ryan Zimmerman belted two home runs, a two-run opposite-field shot in the first and a solo blast to lead off the third, for the 10th multi-homer game of his career. The last time he replicated the feat was on Aug. 5, 2010.

Since receiving a cortisone shot in his ailing right shoulder on June 24, Zimmerman has hit .392 (40-for-102) with 11 home runs and 28 RBIs.

“It’s not me, I think everyone’s healthy,” Zimmerman said. “The more you get healthy, and the more consistency you have in your lineup, the more runs you’re going to score.”

With a trio of RBIs, Zimmerman was also one of four Nats to notch three hits on the afternoon, joining Michael Morse, Danny Espinosa and Roger Bernadina. For Morse, Sunday was his third three-hit game in the last week, and for Espinosa, it capped his home stand at 11-for-27, with a home run, five RBIs and five runs.

The Nats made it 8-0 in the fifth, when backup catcher Sandy Leon drove in two with a double. After Atlanta tacked on its pair, Zimmerman scored once more in the sixth on a Bernadina single.

STATS YOU MAY HEAR DURING A NATS BROADCAST:

The Nationals are 12-7 thus far in July and have played winning baseball every month this season: June (15-10), May (15-13) and April (14-8)…the Giants are the only other club in MLB that can claim a winning record in April, May and June. * Including a 17-10 mark in Sept. of ’11, Washington has posted 4 straight winning months…before the Nationals’ current 4-month win streak, they had only 3 winning months in the previous 25 baseball months dating to Aug. ’07.

The Nationals NL-leading .589 winning percentage ranks 3rd in MLB (NYY .604, TEX .600) and currently renders a 4.5-game lead over the Braves in the NL East standings. * The Nationals have either led the NL East or shared the top spot for 100 of the season’s 110 days…only the Rangers (107) have enjoyed more days atop of their division in ‘12.

Washington is 18-7-6 (win-loss-tie) in series play this season, including an 8-1-3 mark against NL East rivals (2-0-2 against ATL, 1-1-1 against MIA, 3-0 against NYM, 2-0 against PHI). Thanks to a pair of home doubleheaders (July 21 vs. ATL, Aug. 3 vs. MIA), the Nationals are just 10 days (6-5 record to date) into a stretch in which they will play 35 games in a 34-day stretch from July 13-Aug. 15…the Nationals’ one off day in that span: Mon, July 30. * 21 of the Nationals’ first 25 post All-Star break contests come against NL East foes: 8 against MIA (2-2 thus far), 6 against NYM (2-1), 4 against ATL (2-2), 3 against PHI.

Dating to June 24, Ryan Zimmerman is batting .389 (4th in NL) with 10 doubles (tied 5th), 11 homers (2nd), 31 RBI (first), 25 runs (2nd) and a 1.226 OPS (2nd) in 26 games. He homered twice on Sunday, as Washington salvaged a series split with an assertive 9-2 victory over the Braves on Sun. at Nationals Park…Washington restored its 3.5-game lead in the NL East by winning the final 2 games of the 4-game set…Zimmerman’s multi-homer effort was the 10th of his career, first in the midst of a pennant race.

In 20 games beginning June 28, Bernadina is 17-for-36 (.472) with 4 RBI, 4 walks, 6 stolen bases and 4 runs scored to raise his on-base percentage for the season to .372 from .314.

THIS DATE IN D.C BASEBALL HISTORY: JUNE 23, 2008:

In 1-0 loss to Matt Cain and the Giants on July 24 at AT&T Park, Tim Redding tossed first career complete game in a losing effort. In doing so, Redding “teamed” with Cain to post the first game in which both starting pitchers went the distance, did not issue a walk, and did not allow more than one run since CIN’s Mario Soto and LAD Orel Hershiser turned the identical trick, July 29, 1984.

NEXT TWO TO START:

Tue., July 24 at NYM 7:10pm MASN 106.7-FM The Fan / WFED LHP Gio Gonzalez (12-5, 3.32) RHP R.A. Dickey (13-1, 2.84)

*Despite gaudy records, both Gonzalez (5.81 ERA) and Dickey (4.76) have uncharacteristically struggled in last 5 games

Wed., July 25 at NYM 12:10pm MASN 106.7-FM The Fan / WFED RHP Stephen Strasburg (10-4, 2.85) RHP Jeremy Hefner (1-3, 5.85)

*Earlier in ‘12, Strasburg tossed 6.0 scoreless innings to pocket the win, April 11 at NYM, in first career start at Citi Field

JULY TRANSACTIONS HEADLINED BY SS IAN DESMOND BEING PLACED ON 15-DAY D.L.

DATE JULY TRANSACTIONS

7/3 ……….. Reinstated RHP Henry Rodrgurez 15-Day DL…placed RHP Chein-Ming Wang on the 15-Day DL (retro to July 1) with a right

hip strain…following game, returned from rehab, reinstated and optioned  C Sandy Leon to Harrisburg.

7/19 ……… Placed C Jonathan Solano on 15-Day DL retro to June 18 (left oblique)…designated OF Rick Ankiel for assignment….returned

from rehab and reinstated RHP Drew Storen from 60-Day DL…recalled C Sandy Leon from Harrisburg.

7/21 ……… Recalled LHP John Lannan from Syracuse (26th player for DH)…OF Xavier Nady returned from rehab, reinstated from 15-Day DL and designated for assignment…following game, optioned LHP John Lannan to Syracuse.

7/23 ……… Recalled OF Corey Brown from Syracuse…placed SS Ian Desmond on 15-Day DL (retro to July 21) with a left oblique strain

THE BONUS STAT: NATIONALS 2012 HIGHS AND LOWS

* TEAM BATTING

Most runs, game …………. 12, 6/26 at COL

Most runs, inning …………………. 5, Many Times

Most hits (9-inning game) ………………. 21, 6/26 at COL

Most hits (extra-inning game) …………….. 15, 7/20 vs. ATL [11 inn.]

Most doubles, game ……………. 7, 6/26 at COL

Most home runs, game ………… 4, 7/4 vs. SFG and 6/26 at COL

Most extra-base hits, game ……….. 11, 6/26 at COL

Most total bases, game ……………. 40, 6/26 at COL

Most walks (9-inning game) ……………….. 10, 4/11 at NYM

Most walks (extra-inning game)……………… 7, 5/4 vs. PHI [11 inn.]

Most strikeouts (9-inning game) ……………. 14, 5/17 vs. PIT and 4/29 at LAD

Most strikeouts (extra-inning game) ………… 12, 6/28 at COL [11 inn.]

Most runners left on base (9-inning game) ………………. 14, 5/13 at CIN and 4/11 at NYM

Most runners left on base (extra-innings) ………………… 14, 6/5 vs. NYM [12 inn.] and 5/4 vs. PHI [11 inn.]

Fewest hits, game …………….. 3, 6/20 vs. TBR and 4

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