The Washington Times - April 10, 2013, 12:41AM

The music played inside the clubhouse of the Washington Nationals Tuesday night. Music celebrating a hard-fought 8-7 victory over the Chicago White Sox that made the Nationals 5-2 on the young season and opened their homestand with a rowdy night of loud home runs and equally noticeable held breaths.  

The usual songs played, streaming through the speakers as the first indication to visitors that it was a happy night for the home team. 


It could’ve just as easily been a low whistle — the sound of a narrow escape. That, too, would’ve described their victory, a win that surged multiple times into the territory of all-but certain on the backs of home runs from Ian Desmond, Jayson Werth and two by Adam LaRoche, but was nearly snatched back on just as many occasions. 

“Well, it wasn’t pretty,” said Nationals manager Davey Johnson as he sat down at his post-game press conference. 

“It doesn’t have to be pretty,” Desmond said later. “A win is a win. We’ll take it.”

It started with left-hander Gio Gonzalez, who brought his usually dominant stuff but lacked the command to make it as effective as possible. He labored through the first inning, had thrown 74 pitches after three and lasted just five on 99 pitches, only 57 of them strikes.

But when he made his exit, pulled for a pinch hitter in the bottom of the fifth after Desmond’s second home run of the season had sailed into the visitors’ bullpen and given the Nationals their first lead, he’d only given up one run. Despite allowing six baserunners via four hits and two walks, Gonzalez struck out seven. The only run the White Sox tagged him for scored on a bases-loaded balk in the first inning when Gonzalez took the wrong foot off the rubber. 

“He’s done that before but not quite that bad,” Johnson said of Gonzalez’s control issues. “I guess he was just missing, just off the plate. One hundred pitches through five is not usually Gio… He just couldn’t throw it over.” 

But while Gonzalez was battling his command, the Nationals were forcing White Sox starter Jake Peavy to use an equal amount of his own arsenal.  

Peavy’s pitches were moving early and the Nationals flailed, often somewhat hopelessly. They ran their way into two outs on the basepaths and forced Peavy to face just the minimum number of batters through three innings. But he, too, dealt with a soaring pitch count. 

I think (Denard Span) and (Werth) had him up to like 25 pitches in the first two hitters of the game,” Desmond said. “We all had a chance to see what he was doing and get a good look at him… I thought that was huge.”  

It was that strategy, one that could be an overarching theme for the Nationals this season with Span installed in their leadoff spot and Werth behind him, that may have helped lead to their offensive explosion. 

Werth, who surpassed the 500 RBI mark in his career with his home run, is consistently among the league leaders when it comes to pitches per plate appearance, averaging 4.44 over the course of his career. Span, who is at 3.85 per plate appearance in his career, entered Tuesday night’s game seeing 4.22 per appearance this season.  

He’s seeing all those pitches, he’s making the pitcher work so not only are guys behind him getting a chance to see what the pitcher’s got, but he’s taxing the pitcher,” Werth said. “He gets more at-bats than anybody else leading off so as the game goes on, as a pitcher he’s going to have to get through the lineup and it’s going to be tougher for him. 

“He’s throwing more pitches and he’s got to throw more pitches that mean more. It’s not just put something up there, and get a first-pitch out. He’s got to work to get through the lineup so over the course of the game, by the time you get to the third time through, the guy’s thrown a lot of meaningful pitches. Hopefully his pitch count’s up and you’ve got a chance of seeing that sixth-inning guy, that seventh-inning guy.”

Chances are, of course, if that happens, by the time the middle of the order gets to the plate a pitcher has also been worn out — The way Peavy appeared to be when he surrendered Desmond’s homer in the fifth. And the way he looked when he opened the sixth inning by watching Span double, Werth hit a two-run shot into the left field seats, walking Ryan Zimmerman and serving up another two-run homer to LaRoche. 

It was the first baseman’s first hit of the season, and it came after he missed the previous two games with a stiff back. For his encore, he smoked his second of the season to center field in his next at-bat.

When he returned to the clubhouse after the game, LaRoche’s 11-year-old son Drake tapped him on the shoulder. “It’s about time,” he told his father. Then he walked away.  

“Honestly I didn’t worry about it at all,” LaRoche said, playfully rolling his eyes at Drake’s comment. “I felt as good as I could feel that first series with (Miami)… Where I was that first series is where I want to be all year and when I’m going really good, that’s how I’m feeling at the plate. I loved it. I want to keep that going.”

But in spite of all the good things that went on for the Nationals — they rapped out eight runs off 13 hits and saw seven of their eight starting position players reach base — they surrendered their lead once and nearly gave it back on two other occasions. 

A four-run lead became one when Tyler Clippard surrendered a three-run homer to Paul Konerko in the seventh. A three-run lead became one when Rafael Soriano surrendered a two-run shot to Alex Rios in the ninth. 

“It’s early in the year,” Johnson said. “Guys are not throwing like I know they’re capable of.”

Ultimately they escaped. They pumped up the volume on the clubhouse speakers and celebrated putting another ‘W’ in the books, even if it wasn’t always pretty.

“Those guys are tough,” LaRoche said. “It was a big win.”