Tide turns for Nationals as hits finally start to fall

Bats start to support strong pitching

Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth has benefited from moving into the leadoff spot in the lineup. He has hit home runs in each of the past two games. (Associated Press)Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth has benefited from moving into the leadoff spot in the lineup. He has hit home runs in each of the past two games. (Associated Press)
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When things were going bad, and the Washington Nationals’ ineffective offense was a constant topic of conversation, there was no concrete way to explain why certain things weren’t happening.

Now that the Nationals had won five straight entering Thursday’s game against St. Louis and scored 18 runs in their past two games, there’s not much to pinpoint.

“Balls are just finding holes now, honestly, that’s what I think,” said second baseman Danny Espinosa, who clubbed his 11th home run Wednesday night.

WALK-OFF HOME RUN GIVES NATS THEIR SIXTH STRAIGHT WIN

“Think of the games when we wouldn’t necessarily get runs in,” he added. “We’d hit the ball hard, and someone would line out. You can’t do anything about that. All you’re trying to do is hit the ball hard. I think luck has just turned our way. We’ve had good at-bats all year, we’ve hit the ball hard all year, now it’s just finding holes.”

The Nationals’ recent offensive surge - which has lifted them from the bottom of the NL in batting — has coincided with the best stretch of defense in franchise history and Ryan Zimmerman’s return to the lineup.

Zimmerman, who is 2-for-10 with a double and two RBI since returning, was the first to say Tuesday that his return wasn’t going to make them score 10 runs every night.

And they didn’t — they only scored eight Tuesday.

“Having Zim’s presence back in the lineup is unbelievable for us,” Espinosa said.

But it’s the guys around him who have been doing a lot of the heavy lifting. Michael Morse, who became the every-day first baseman May 22, is hitting .370 with a .783 slugging percentage in the 23 games since. Jayson Werth, moved to leadoff, hit his ninth home run Wednesday night and opened Thursday’s game with No. 10. Roger Bernadina followed with a first-inning homer Thursday, continuing his improved production since Zimmerman’s addition to the lineup.

“It’s coming together,” said Nationals hitting coach Rick Eckstein. “Early in the season, it was tough because guys were having good at-bats but the fruits of their labor weren’t showing as much. … On the road trip, guys were swinging the bats really well. Hitting the ball hard, stung the ball pretty good and now those balls are starting to fall in. Guys are starting to really relax, and it’s coming together.”

“All along, we felt that we’re a better offensive ballclub than what we’ve shown,” manager Jim Riggleman said. “It’s kind of water seeking its level a little bit. We were better than what we were showing. To score 10 runs like we did [Wednesday] night, nobody goes out and scores 10 runs a night. Certainly somewhere in between there we would take.”

It’s been a hit-parade since Zimmerman returned, and the Nationals are continuing to win. They’d already won five in a row before entering Thursday night. Six would be their longest winning streak since September 2009.

“It’s fun to win, period,” Espinosa said. “It’s more fun when you get a lot of hits and a lot of runs but, to me, a win is win. All wins are fun.”

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