Everybody in the Nationals’ lineup is getting in on the team’s offensive resurgence, but now the closer situation is a question mark.
Bryce Harper hit his first major league home run, and Ian Desmond had a go-ahead double to lead an 11-hit attack, but Sean Burnett had to bail out the erratic Henry Rodriguez in a save situation in the Nats’ 8-5 win over the San Diego Padres on Monday night.
Craig Stammen (2-0) got the win in with two perfect innings in relief of Ross Detwiler, who allowed a season-high seven hits and a walk in five innings, striking out three. Miles Mikolas (0-1) took the loss, retiring only one batter after taking over in the sixth inning and allowing Desmond’s two-run double.
Harper crushed a ball over the fence in the deepest part of the ballpark, into the hitting backdrop to the left of the 402-foot sign, to cap a three-run fourth inning that gave the Nats a 4-1 lead. After rounding the bases quickly, the rookie was greeted by high-fives in the dugout. The crowd urged him back out for a curtain call, and he emerged flashing No. 1 signs to the fans behind third base and in left field.
The solo shot gave the Nats a 4-1 lead after Desmond, Roger Bernadina and Ryan Zimmerman led off the inning with consecutive singles to bring in two runs. Zimmerman was erased on a double play ball by Adam LaRoche, but Bernadina scored from third on an errant pickoff attempt by Padres catcher Nick Hundley.
Detwiler, who came into the game with a 2.10 ERA, had difficulty holding the lead. Yonder Alonso led off the San Diego fourth with a ball that hopped off Adam LaRoche’s glove for a single, and Chase Headley followed with a drive that barely eluded a diving Rick Ankiel in center to put runners on second and third with no one out.
After Hundley struck out, Orlando Hudson singled to center, scoring Alonso, and Ankiel hit cutoff man Danny Espinosa as Headley tried to score from second. Rookie catcher Sandy Leon, playing in his first major league game lunged for Espinosa’s one-hop relay as Headley lowered left shoulder and barreled into him. Leon appeared to fall awkwardly on his right ankle, and limped around the plate before falling to the ground in pain. He was helped from the field and Jesus Flores replaced him.
Leon had just been called up from Class-AA Harrisburg on Saturday to replace Wilson Ramos, who tore his right ACL against Cincinnati. Manager Davey Johnson said after the game that Leon suffered a high ankle sprain and was placed on the 60-day disabled list. The Nationals called up Carlos Maldonado from Class-AAA Syracuse to serve as backup catcher.
Hudson scored later in the inning to tie the game on a squeeze bunt by pitcher Tim Stauffer, and the Padres took the lead off Detwiler in the fifth when Headley singled to center to score Jesus Guzman, who had doubled with one out.
After Stammen relieved Detwiler in the sixth, Nationals took the lead for good on Desmond’s double, a drive off the right field scoreboard that was inches short of being a home run. The hit scored Ankiel, who led off with a walk, and Flores, who followed with a single.
The Nationals expanded the lead to three runs in the eighth on solo homers by Chad Tracy, his third of the season, and Xavier Nady, his second. But the way closer Henry Rodriguez has been throwing the ball lately, no lead is safe. MPH-Rod again had no control and walked Will Venable to lead off, then Cameron Maybin and Chris Denflora with one out to load the bases.
This time, though, Johnson had seen enough. He went to the mound and pulled Rodriguez, summoning Sean Burnett, who came into the game with eight career saves. The left-hander needed just six pitches to get his ninth, inducing Guzman to ground into a 1-2-3 double play to end the game.
Champ of the Game: Burnett, who got the Nats out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the ninth. While Johnson says he still has confidence in Rodriguez, Burnett made his case loud and clear for at least a committee assignment until Drew Storen or Brad Lidge can pitch again.
Honorable mention goes to Harper, who continues to flash his talent, and Desmond, who came through with a clutch hit.
For the Padres, Hudson drove in two runs and scored a third.
Chump of the Game: Rodriguez. He has the right stuff, but needs to get his head on straight.
For San Diego, Mikolas had nothing, surrendering a walk, two hits and two runs in one-third of an inning.
Unsung Hero: Flores. Johnson wanted to give him a night off after a day-night turnaround with a long rain delay, but he had to play in a pinch. All he did was go 1-for-3, score a run and contribute another night of solid defense.
For the Padres, Joe Thatcher put out the fire in the sixth and came through with 1 2-3 innings of scoreless relief.