- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Nationals have shown traces of greatness all season. A strong offensive inning here, a great pitching performance there — all pieces of the team that they one day hope to become.

On Wednesday night, they put all the pieces together.

Michael Morse crushed two homers while Danny Espinosa and Jayson Werth each added one apiece as Washington routed the St. Louis Cardinals 10-0. Livan Hernandez capped the win with two strikeouts and a pop-up in the ninth inning, adding an exclamation point to his ninth career shutout.

“I really can’t say much about it other than what you saw — he was just vintage Livo,” manager Jim Riggleman said. “He just really had it all going, and we played good defense behind him. He was completely in control tonight.”

Hernandez allowed three hits, two by left fielder Jon Jay. While his strong performance on the mound certainly helped the Nationals’ bats come alive, Morse’s second-inning home run gave Hernandez confidence early. The hitting and pitching sustained one another to quiet the Cardinals, who have lost five straight. The Nationals, meanwhile, have won five in a row.

“That’s the Livan that we always want, and on top of that we got a lot of offense,” catcher Ivan Rodriguez said after going 3-for-4. “When you have a lot of runs as a pitcher, you’re going to feel more relaxed and that’s what happened to him today.”

The Nats followed their 13-hit performance in the series opener with 15 hits Wednesday. And in his first game after Adam LaRoche was pronounced out for the season, Morse showed that Riggleman and company have nothing to worry about at first base. He connected for three hits to left field, two of which landed in the visiting bullpen and a third that hopped the fence for a double.

“I’m just going up there and putting some good at-bats together,” Morse shrugged. “We’re having some good at bats, and the offense is coming around. We had a lot of patience today; people got their pitches and didn’t miss them.”

The Nats had a crushing seventh inning for the second consecutive game, highlighted by the first back-to-back home runs of the season. Morse deposited his second homer over the left-field wall, and Espinosa spread the love to right field, giving the Washington bullpen a souvenir. All three runs scored with two outs.

Albert Pujols started at third base for St. Louis and committed two rare errors. His fielding woes reflected the kind of night that the visitors had in Nationals Park, as hit after hit landed comfortably within range of the Washington defense. Espinosa was all over two of the more well-hit balls, nabbing an Andrew Brown chopper in the fifth inning and leaping acrobatically for a catch in the sixth.

“It wasn’t too much thinking … just reaction to whatever I could do to stop the ball,” Espinosa said. “Tonight we got some good base hits, some clutch hits, and the defense has been there pretty much all year. … it was nice to get everything together for the night.”

The Nats have won their past four at home, and those victories haven’t come against easy matchups; Washington chased Philadelphia’s Cliff Lee, a former Cy Young Award winner, in a 10-2 rout May 31, and it has put up 18 runs on St. Louis’ Jaime Garcia and Kyle McClellan, who entered the series with 12 combined wins.

“We’re playing great defense, the pitching’s there and the offense is there. I mean, what else can you ask for?” Morse asked.

“We’re a good team, and we know it — it’s starting to come together. This is what [general manager] Mike Rizzo envisioned when he put this team together.”