The Nationals tagged the Baltimore Orioles for nine runs on Sunday, the most runs they’ve scored all season, and it was an output that featured eight of the Nationals’ nine position players all reaching base at least once. Five turned in multi-hit games, five had extra-base hits and three hit home runs.
Here are a few notes about the Nationals’ “bonanza-like” afternoon at the plate:
• Stephen Strasburg’s home run in the fifth inning was the first longball for a Nationals pitcher this season. Left-hander Tommy Milone, who was shipped to the A’s in the trade for Gio Gonzalez, was the last pitcher to homer for Washington, jacking a three-run shot into the Nationals’ bullpen in his first major league at-bat during his debut. John Lannan also homered in 2011, the first of his career, in July at Dodger Stadium.
“(It was) shocking, that’s for sure,” Strasburg said. “I feel like in BP I’m swinging a lot harder to hit it out. I just ran into one.”
The rest of his teammates, though, weren’t all that surprised. Nationals manager Davey Johnson said Strasburg hits 10 every day in batting practice.
“It’s no surprise he hit a home run,” said second baseman Danny Espinosa, who also hit one Sunday. “If you guys come watch BP, he does it all day. It’s not that it was a surprise to have the power to all of a sudden do it. He’s a good athlete.
Strasburg said he’d been working with a friend of his back home in San Diego this offseason to hone his swing and, at least by the numbers, he’s doing something right. Strasburg’s hitting .375 this season with three doubles, and a home run and slugging .750 in just 16 at-bats.
He obliged the fans with a curtain call but the ever-stoic right-hander did so reluctantly.
“I’m not big for going out there and showboating and everything,” he said. “It was great but I know my place. I’m not a real hitter out there, so I’m not going to act like I do it all the time. Just run around the bases. But it was definitely a good feeling. I think I’ve got one more home run than a lot of my friends back home.”
Strasburg’s home run trot, which was exceptionally slow, drew a few cracks from teammates, including Adam LaRoche who might be the next-slowest runner on the team, especially with Wilson Ramos out for the season.
“We were trying to figure out if he was running full-speed or if that was his trot,” LaRoche said. “Not that I’m one to talk. I might need to race him. He might be the only guy on this team that I can beat.”
• Strasburg and Jesus Flores hit back-to-back home runs in the fifth, Flores’ solo shot his first home run of the season. It was the second time this year the Nationals’ have had back-to-back home runs, the first coming just four days ago when Adam LaRoche and Xavier Nady hit back-to-back homers against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
• Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper keyed the team’s offense today, hitting a two-run triple in the third inning to drive home the team’s first two runs. It was Harper’s second triple this homestand. Harper had a tough road trip, feeling he began to get a little overanxious in the batters box, but since the Nationals have returned home, Harper is 7-for-26. He attributed the difference to the comfort he feels at home and — interestingly enough — facing left-handed pitching.
“I feel really good at home,” he said. “I feel good having our video room and seeing all my videos and seeing what pitches I’m swinging at. I feel good up there right now and any time I see a lefty I get locked back in. I like seeing lefties. I keep my front shoulder in a little bit more, I just feel a lot better when I face lefties.”
• Danny Espinosa’s two-run homer in the eighth inning, the second baseman’s second home run this homestand, along with his double in the third, were positive signs for him. Espinosa’s struggles this season have been well-documented and it’s no stretch to say he’s going to have to continue producing in order to maintain a stranglehold on the starting job at second base. His day Sunday was a good start.
He also struck out twice more Sunday, giving him 50 on the season.
“I didn’t like the couple punchouts,” Johnson said. “He needs to cut those down. He’s on a horrendous pace. He’s a lot better hitter than that. He’s on pace for close to 200. But that was a good shot in the arm for him today. I liked it.”
Here’s Espinosa’s take on the strikeouts:
“If I’m producing the way I want to, then strikeouts don’t worry me,” he said. “If I’m striking out with nobody on, it’s not that big a deal. Now, if I’m striking out with guys in scoring position, then that’s a little bit of a bigger difference. But most of the time, when I’m striking out I feel like I have nobody on or … I don’t feel like I’m striking out where there’s runners in scoring position. I’m at least putting the ball in play.”
“People just get caught up in strikeouts,” he added. “Whatever. If you want to get caught up in strikeouts, that’s one of the things. I know stat people, they’re worried about that, worried about that. Well, strikeouts happen. This isn’t 1920 anymore. It’s tough. We face guys up there that are throwing 95, 96, 97. It’s not the easiest thing to go out there. When you’re struggling, guess what? It gets harder. To me, the biggest time is when you have runners in scoring position. You have time to do stuff, you want to put the ball in play the best you can to at least push across a run on an error or something.”