It only took two batters on Saturday for the Washington Nationals to eclipse their offensive output from the previous night. Obviously, that confidence boost — coupled with the fact that the opposing pitcher was not named Jose Fernandez — was the impetus behind a 9-2 win over the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park, earning Washington a split of the first two games of the three-game set.
One night after being shut out on two hits by Fernandez and two bullpen mates, the Nationals took advantage of one of the 21-year-old’s four scheduled days off between starts, instead taking out their frustrations on Nate Eovaldi. Washington drove Eovaldi from the game after just three innings, echoing Dan Haren‘s outing from Friday night, and in the process remained a barely-breathing eight games behind the Cincinnati Reds for the NL’s final wild card spot.
Tanner Roark, himself a rookie, was the beneficiary of all the offense, but the way he threw, he didn’t need it all. Making his first major league start after an impressive string of appearances out of the bullpen, Roark (5-0) sparkled, throwing six shutout innings, allowing just four hits while walking nary a batter.
It was Ryan Zimmerman, giving Roark all the runs he would need before most of the crowd had settled in. After Denard Span led off the game with a single to extend his hitting streak to 18 games, Zimmerman blasted a two-run homer to center that bounced off the base of the home run sculpture/monstrosity. Initially ruled a double, the call was overturned after review and Zimmerman was allowed to trot the rest of the way around.
Not satisfied with the one home run, Zimmerman took Eovaldi deep again in his next at-bat, leading off the third. Wilson Ramos added a two-run single later in the inning to spell the end for Eovaldi, leaving the rest up to Roark.
The rookie cruised from the outset, retiring the first nine Miami batters he faced in order, and responded to his first jam in the fourth by getting Giancarlo Stanton to ground into a double play. At the end of the night, Roark had lowered his season’s ERA to 0.94 and given the Nationals a legitimate candidate for a rotation spot in 2014.
From there, it was mostly window dressing. Back-to-back double by Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche accounted for one run, while Tyler Moore provided the icing with a two-run single in the ninth-inning. Probably the only thing that didn’t go Washington’s way in this one actually happened before the game even started.
Bryce Harper has been bothered off and on for the past week with a sore hip, and after a couple of days ping-ponging in and out of the lineup, Saturday represented a strong pong out. Harper was in enough pain during batting practice that it left him on the ground for a stretch, prompting Davey Johnson to scratch Harper from the lineup. The 20-year-old has already flown back to Washington to have the hip looked at — optimistically, he’ll have it treated and will be able to join the team for a four-game series in New York against the Mets starting Monday. But if the Nationals can’t close the gap between themselves and the Reds — and the way Cincinnati is playing lately it will be difficult — it might be more prudent to just shut Harper down for the year and bring him back fresh in 2014, a status he rarely could claim after his wall-smashing incidents back in April.