After enduring a miserable series sweep by the Atlanta Braves, the Washington Nationals (55-60) showed some fight against another NL East rival, the Philadelphia Phillies (52-63), in a 9-2 victory.
All the elements that generally haven’t been working for the Nationals this season were operating in full force on Friday night. Dan Haren pitched a gem. The offense produced runs with runners in scoring position. Hitters – even lefties – got hits off a left-handed pitcher.
The improvements powered the Nationals to their first win since August 3, snapping a four-game losing streak.
Dan Haren’s dominant outing earned him his first career win over the Phillies, and made him the 13th pitcher in Major League Baseball to beat all 30 teams. He pitched eight innings of two-run ball, allowing just four hits and striking out seven.
The outing dipped his era under five (4.99) for the first time since May 14. He has continued to improve since his stint on the DL, and has the lowest ERA (2.77) of Washington’s starters since the All-Star break – excluding Ross Ohlendorf, who made just one spot start.
Haren’s previous four teams went 0-7 against Philadelphia in games he started, but his performance – combined with a whole lot of run support – made Washington his first team to beat the Phillies with him on the mound.
The offense started their support of Haren with a bang in the second inning, when Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman each smashed balls out of the park after a single from Wilson Ramos to give the Nationals a 3-0 lead.
The offensive surge continued in the fifth inning, when the Nationals combined for a single, two doubles and three walks to score four runs.
After giving up back-to-back doubles to Adam LaRoche and Ramos, former-National John Lannan intentionally walked Rendon to load the bases with two outs. But the plan backfired when he walked Haren to bring in a run, and was forced to face Denard Span who drove in another.
The performance of the offense as a whole against lefty Lannan was an encouraging change. The Nats offense entered the night hitting .215 against left-handed pitchers – the worst average in the majors – but they collected eight runs, nine hits and five walks off Lannan, who had previously pitched exceptionally well against his former team.
Even the Nationals’ left-handed hitters saw their luck change against Lannan. Before Friday night, Bryce Harper, LaRoche and Span combined to hit .173 against left-handers, and LaRoche and Span were both hitting below .250 since the All-Star break against all pitchers.
But on Friday, the three left-handed starters got at least one hit and drove in at least one run. All eight position players got a hit in the 12-hit effort.
The Nationals also improved their situational hitting against the Phillies, going 6-for-10 with runners in scoring position. They went 1-for-19 in the entire series against the Braves.
“Well that’s more like it,” manager Davey Johnson said after the game with a smile, clearly in much better spirits than he had been for the previous four games.
“We hit the ball on the nose,” Johnson said. “When you do that everybody is feeling good, [and] can’t wait to get up there. Hopefully we can start getting that good feeling, nice and relaxed feeling more, and keep it going for a couple months. That would be fun.”
If the Nationals can do that, and start winning more games than they lose, like they have been doing since the break, watching them play will indeed be a lot more fun as the 2013 season winds down.