The Washington Times - June 10, 2013, 10:31AM

After a long day at the ballpark produced two badly-needed wins for the Nationals, they left the clubhouse late Sunday night feeling pretty good about themselves. As they’ve experienced before, each win this season gives them hope that it’ll be the win to key the prolonged winning streak that’s largely eluded them. 

Manager Davey Johnson spoke to them before the game and issued a friendly reminder that he wanted them to be aggressive at the plate. That he wanted them to feel like the ones in control when they stood there.

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“His message was just to be aggressive, but be patiently-aggressive, be selective,” said center fielder Denard Span, who hit a game-tying triple in Sunday night’s win. “I think sometimes we get up there and we give away at-bats. We are swinging at pitches that we shouldn’t be swinging at. He just wanted us to relax and just get settled in and make sure we get our pitch.”

There was nothing specific that changed on Sunday, they felt, except for the Nationals’ execution.

“Just got some timely hits, which we haven’t got,” said first baseman Adam LaRoche. “When you don’t get them you look flat. Team looks dead. Guys look like they’re not into it out there when you’re not hitting and not pitching.

“You do that and stuff just starts to come to life. You’ve got more energy on the bench. You do this a few times and you get comfortable when you’re down in a game. If you’re down a couple runs in the fourth, fifth inning, you get the feeling that ‘Chances are we’re going to come back,’ instead of ‘Here we go again.’”

LaRoche wasn’t alone in his assessment. Several other players noted the importance of the Nationals’ ability to come back after being down three runs early in the nightcap. Some may say “Three runs?” But the Nationals hadn’t overcome a lead larger than two to win a game all season. It was a step.

At 31-31, the Nationals are still 7 1/2 games behind the Atlanta Braves. By the close of business, after the outcome of the Braves’ game out west against the Padres is in the books, the Nationals will open a nine-game road trip in Denver either seven or eight games out in the division.

Now, that is not an insurmountable lead. As we’ve addressed in this space many times this season, there are plenty of playoff teams and World Series winners who, even at the All-Star break, found themselves in a less-than-desirable position in the standings. 

But it’s not easy.

The Braves will play 22 of their final 32 games before the All-Star break against teams that currently possess a record below .500. The Nationals have 23 games against sub-.500 teams before the break. 

Perhaps, though, there is something to be gained from being the hunter and not the hunted. Being the hunted did not work out well for the Nationals early this season, so maybe the role reversal will help.

“I don’t mind the position we’re in,” LaRoche said. “I was talking to (Jayson Werth) about it and obviously it’s nice to be leading but I also like the fact that every game from here on out, we need to grind it out. We’re in no position to coast. And I don’t see us being in that position the whole year.

“I think we’re going to have to grind down to the final game in September to make this thing happen. I don’t mind being a few games back.”