After a shaky bullpen and subpar defense managed to sabotage the Washington Nationals first real offensive explosion of the season, the lineup vented all of their frustrations on the Red Sox and starting pitcher Wade Miley Wednesday afternoon. They crushed baseballs all over Fenway Park, and for the second straight game, set a new high in runs after failing to score more than four for the first seven games of the season.
It was, to put it as simply as possible, a welcome relief for Nationals fans. This was the sort of performance that fans expected coming into the season. The team managed to string hits together, get the line moving, and give some cushion to their starter, Gio Gonzalez, who, while he got the win, was far from dominant.
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First off, kudos to manager Matt Williams. After sticking to his initial plan for the first part of the season, Williams has started to mix things up with the lineup the past two games.
It certainly looks like those moves are paying off. Ian Desmond rewarded Williams for moving him into the two hole by crushing a ball over the Green Monster Tuesday, a welcome sight from a hitter who has looked lost at the plate so far this season. Bryce Harper, who moved into the cleanup role for Tuesday after spending most of the first week in the three spot, looked like a completely different hitter, going 2-for-4 and more importantly, avoiding the strikeout.
Michael Taylor looks like a completely different batter now that he’s out of the leadoff role too. After contributing hugely to the defensive meltdown Monday afternoon, Taylor dropped down to the nine spot in the order and continued hitting, going two-for-four with a double.
Speaking of Taylor, it looks as if he learned a big lesson from the two missed balls that he was responsible for on Monday. In the seventh inning, a fly ball heading into right-center field looked like a prime candidate for a repeat performance. Instead, Taylor took charge, called off Harper, and made the catch. There’s going to be some growing pains with the young center fielder, but it looks as if we’re watching him mature before our eyes.
While the Nats’ defense still put an error on the board and added another unearned run to its already shameful total, the bullpen managed to be a bright spot. When Gio exited the game after six innings, the relievers came in and shut the game down. Drew Storen, who was on the ropes Sunday afternoon, got out without allowing a single baserunner.
But the story of the day has to go to Rafael Martin. The 30-year-old rookie, who was just called up to replace the struggling Xavier Cedeno, pitched two brilliant innings that featured just one hit and a phenomenal five strikeouts. (If you haven’t had a chance to check out his story, do yourself a favor and check out MLB.com’s article on his callup here.) Perhaps he can help steady the bullpen that has been seriously lacking in stability.
It’s nice to see the Nats get a big win, and it’s even better to see them start to build some offensive momentum. While it helps that they were hitting in Fenway, a park that can augment any offense, the confidence the Nationals built at the plate on Monday and Tuesday could help go a long way in getting their season back on track.