Nationals manager Dave Martinez has a good thing going, so he doesn’t plan to make many changes to his lineup.
That is a good thing for Bryce Harper, who has hit a home run in his first two games as the leadoff hitter for the Nationals.
But that is also welcome news for Matt Adams, who slammed his third home run in the last two games as the Nationals smashed the Pittsburgh Pirates 9-3 on Wednesday. Washington had 14 hits and increased its league lead in walks with three more. The Nationals also lead the league in steals, and they had two more of those on Wednesday, from Harper and Michael A. Taylor.
“We’ll let it ride,” Martinez said of his new lineup. “See what happens.”
Adams, who started at first base Wednesday, is now batting third in the order. That is the spot where Harper hit before making the move to the top of the order.
“He is getting pitches to hit,” Martinez said of Harper.
Martinez said regular starting first baseman Ryan Zimmerman will be in the lineup Thursday afternoon. And that means Adams may make the start in left field against Pittsburgh.
The Pennsylvania native, in his first year with the Nationals, is 8-for-15 with three homers and six runs scored during this homestand. He had a streak of driving in a run in five at-bats in a row broken with a walk Wednesday.
“It felt good,” Adams said of his home run to left field in the first inning, two batters after Harper went deep.
And what about the new lineup?
“Whatever lineup we put up there we can put runs across the board,” said Adams, now hitting .316.
Harper, batting leadoff for the second game in a row, ended the night with three hits, two runs and three RBI. It was the fourth win a row for the Nationals, who had struggled since starting the year 4-0.
Harper now has 10 home runs after leading off the game with a long ball for the first time in his career. Until Tuesday, he had not hit in the leadoff spot since 2013.
Harper had plenty of assistance, as second baseman Howie Kendrick had three hits, Adams had two hits and drove in two and third baseman Wilmer Difo had two more hits.
The Nationals (15-16) have now scored 21 runs in the last two games after starting the night next-to-last in the league in leaving runners on base.
Washington starter Stephen Strasburg (3-3) was the latest beneficiary of the Nationals’ new-found offensive prowess.
The San Diego native survived a shaky first inning as the Pirates got a break while taking a 1-0 lead.
It was originally ruled that Starling Marte was forced out at second base on a grounder off the bat of Josh Bell. But Pittsburgh challenged the call and it was overturned. The next batter, Corey Dickerson, hit into a force out while driving in the first run.
“Strasburg got a little frustrated,” Martinez said of the long first inning and two replay challenges.
The long inning resulted in an unearned run and forced Strasburg to throw 27 pitches in the first frame. Strasburg also gave up a run in the third and a solo homer to Francisco Cervelli in the sixth.
But he ended the night with 11 strikeouts in seven innings, while yielding seven hits and three runs, two of which were earned.
Martinez said regular starting third baseman Anthony Rendon (toe), who has been on the disabled list since April 22, will begin a minor league rehab assignment on Thursday with Single-A Potomac.
“He might DH and then play third or he might just play third; we’ll see how he feels,” Martinez said.
At least for now a new-found spot at the top of the order may force teams to stop walking Harper (.268), who has drawn a league-high 39 free passes – but none Wednesday.
“We’ll tinker. There is a lot of information out there,” Martinez said of the lineup.
NOTES: Zimmerman, who did not play, is hitting .186 and just four-for-22 during the current homestand … It was Federal Workforce Day. The lineup card presentation included Flora “Mackie” Jordan, Marine Corps Systems Command. The ceremonial first pitch was presented by Frank McCraw, Jr., United States Customs & Border Protection Agency. Christina Hines, United States Environmental Protection Agency, provided a spirited cry of “play ball” from the Nationals first-base.