Offense explodes for Nationals in doubleheader

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Sure, the sample sizes were small. But the offensive numbers for the Washington Nationals entering Sunday’s doubleheader against the Milwaukee Brewers at Nationals Park were, well, offensive.

Embarked on “phase two” of their rebuilding project, the Nationals ranked last in baseball in batting average (.209) and slugging percentage (.306). They also occupied the bottom third in runs and on-base percentage.

All the while, the starting rotation assembled a string of unexpected starts, pitching into the fifth inning or deeper in all 15 games. But the offense caught up with the pitching Sunday, combining for 13 runs and 22 hits, including five home runs, in the two games.

“We finally did it,” said Adam LaRoche, who contributed three hits and a home run. “It’s been a rough start for the offense. I can’t put a finger on it. … Hopefully this is the start of something good.”

A key was Danny Espinosa’s move to the leadoff spot Friday. Before that, Ian Desmond was 9-for-50 with a .212 on-base percentage from the top spot.

On Sunday, Espinosa popped a three-run home run into the Nationals’ bullpen in the first game. He followed up with a three-run triple past the diving Ryan Braun in left field in the second contest.

Solid contact was what Espinosa aimed for, instead of trying to do something special. Hitting leadoff hasn’t changed his approach; Espinosa still wants to see several pitches each at-bat.

“It’s not just a matter of comfort, but it’s a question of whether that’s going to be the best place for him, is he the best player for us to have there,” Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said. “At this point he certainly is.”

Dropping down in the lineup benefited Desmond. Hitting in the No. 6 and 7 holes Sunday, the shortstop had four hits and scored three runs.

Utilityman Jerry Hairston Jr. provided another offensive jolt. He snapped a 1-for-23 start to the season by going 3-for-3 in the second game and finished a triple short of the cycle.

“Once we get it going,” Riggleman said, “we’re going to be pretty good.”

Added Hairston: “We try to tell the young guys not to panic. Six, seven, eight, 15 games is nothing over the course of the long season.

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