Pitcher's double starts decisive inning
The ballpark in Cincinnati known derisively as the Great American Launching Pad was a difficult place for Dan Haren to make his Nationals debut. In his first start at Nationals Park on Thursday night, Haren found the conditions much more pitcher-friendly, especially with a sudden cold front that brought a fierce wind whipping in from center field.
But on a night when the 32-year-old continued to struggle, he found another way to contribute -- with his bat. Lining a double that rolled to the wall in right-center field, Haren ignited the rally that catapulted the Nationals to a 7-4 victory before 24,785, which completed a three-game sweep of the Chicago White Sox.
Haren, a .223 career hitter who batted .364 three seasons ago with the Arizona Diamondbacks, rarely got a chance at the plate the last two seasons with the Los Angeles Angels. In the fourth inning of a 3-3 game, Haren made up for lost time. After his double, he moved to third on a two-out single by Jayson Werth and scored the go-ahead run on a wild pitch.
Ryan Zimmerman followed an intentional walk of Bryce Harper with a two-run double to right, and Haren (1-1) had the cushion he needed.
The right-hander's night on the mound was laborious as he surrendered 10 hits and three runs in five innings. That came after he served up four home runs in as many innings in his first start in Cincinnati last week. The positive Thursday was Haren's work in the clutch. He stranded runners in scoring position in each inning. In nine innings so far, Haren has allowed 19 hits and nine earned runs but hasn't walked a batter and has fanned 10.
Coming off a spring in which he went 0-4 with a 6.39 ERA, there might be some alarm bells sounding in the office of Davey Johnson. But the Nationals manager seemed not the least bit concerned before the game.
"I'm not worried about him. He showed me a lot of good stuff in the spring. I like his makeup. I like his pedigree," Johnson said. "I know he's had some physical issues in the past. But those haven't cropped up here. He's throwing the ball good. His velocity and everything is up. [It's] just a matter of making pitches."
Another early-season red flag for Washington (7-2) has been relief pitching. But on Thursday night Ryan Mattheus, Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano delivered. Mattheus surrendered a run-scoring double to Adam Dunn in the sixth inning but fanned Paul Konerko with two runners in scoring position, then pitched a 1-2-3 seventh. Clippard tacked on a perfect eighth for his second hold, and Soriano notched his fifth save.
The Nats were outhit 13-10, but aggressiveness on the bases paid off. The first steals of the season by Werth and Denard Span paved the way for RBI singles by Adam LaRoche and Harper in the first and third innings, respectively. In the eighth, Harper added another run-scoring single, which brought home Span (two hits). In all, the top four hitters in the Nats' lineup reached base 13 times in 19 plate appearances.
There were plenty of positives as the Nats move on to a three-game series at home with Atlanta (8-1) in a battle of division rivals with the best records in the National League. Lefty Ross Detwiler will face right-hander Julio Teheran on Friday night.