PHILADELPHIA — Anthony Rendon and Wilson Ramos took back-to-back swings off Cliff Lee Wednesday night that produced home runs. The No.’s 7 and 8 hitters in the Nationals’ lineup took one of the best left-handed pitchers in the game deep. On consecutive swings.
It was just the latest, though hardly the only, example of how having Wilson Ramos and Bryce Harper back and healthy has affected the Nationals’ offensive production.
Surely Harper’s return from a 31-game stay on the disabled list was more anticipated. Harper alone changes the dynamic of any lineup that he’s in.
But having both he and Ramos back has, in many ways, transformed the way the Nationals’ lineup looks. With Harper back, manager Davey Johnson has moved Rendon back to the No. 7 spot in the order and the Nationals usually hit the catcher eighth.
Since Ramos came off the disabled list on July 4, he and Rendon have combined to hit .341 with three doubles, four homers and drive in 14 runs.
That is a remarkable difference from the early part of the season when manager Davey Johnson lamented the number of “holes” in his lineup, particularly near the bottom of it as Danny Espinosa, Tyler Moore and much of the Nationals’ bench struggled.
“There’s no question about it,” Johnson said of the contrast.
“And that creates a lot of opportunities for the guys in the front of the lineup. They’ve been swinging the heck out of it. We keep them healthy, we’ll be fine.”
The Nationals expected to have one of the deepest lineups in the major leagues when they began the season. Stacked from top to bottom and balanced evenly between left-handed hitters and right, the thinking was that the Nationals would have many nights in which they wore out an opposing pitcher.
That hasn’t always been the case this season.
But Rendon and Ramos have helped to change that of late.
“The depth of this lineup once Harp got back and obviously Wily and Anthony doing what he’s done since he got up here, there’s really no break one through eight,” said third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. “So it’s hard for the opposing pitcher to get through that lineup and just when you think you have a break, you have guys in the seven and eight spots who can hurt you, too.”
For Ramos, the offensive production has been an encouraging sign. After missing the majority of the first half of the season with left hamstring issues, and almost all of the 2012 season after tearing up his knee, the return of Ramos’ power and ability at the plate has left him feeling some relief.
“I feel good right now,” he said. “I’m happy for how I feel right now at the plate. I’m happy for what I’m doing. I was on the DL for a long time so after that, to come here and hit like that makes me feel great and feel happy. That’s what I want, to help the team as much as I can and I keep doing that.”
Rendon’s ability to hit was rarely in question as he came through the ranks as a coveted top prospect. But his adjustments at the major league level, and his ability to get his hands inside pitches — particularly as opposing teams continue to pound him in — has been remarkable.
According to the indispensable Brooks Baseball, of the 294 pitches that Rendon has seen in the strike zone this season, 89 of them have been on the inner third of the plate — that’s 31 percent. He’s hitting .333 on inside pitches. In an 0-2 count on Wednesday night, Lee tried to go in on the Nationals’ rookie. He hit a home run.
“He’s just got good hands,” Johnson said. “He knows what they’re trying to do, and he was working on getting that head out. He’s no dummy. He went to Rice University. He’s got to have something up top. And he’s done that a couple times now with two strikes when they try to come in on him, hit balls out of the ballpark.”
Rendon all but shrugged his shoulders. “I just try to get the barrel to it,” he said. “Don’t think in baseball. It messes you up.”
Told that Johnson keeps lauding him as former Rice attendee and how astute he is, Rendon chuckled.
“I might have a little something something (up there),” he said. “I try not to let it show too much. Only when it’s needed.”