By Bill Ladson and Damian Cristodero
MLB.com |@washingnats |
WASHINGTON -- Right fielder Bryce Harper continues to power the Nationals' offense, hitting two of Washington's five homers to help his club surge past the Braves, 9-2, at Nationals Park on Friday night. Danny Espinosa also homered twice, and Jayson Werth cracked his first of the season.
"His swing is calm, quick and he is waiting for the baseball," manager Matt Williams said. "When he does it, he has the ability to do what he did -- hit a ball to left-center, hit a ball to right. When he gets outside of himself, sometimes it doesn't happen for him. The last couple of games, he has been exceptional."
Atlanta had an early 2-0 lead, thanks to a first-inning sacrifice fly by Jonny Gomes and an RBI double by Freddie Freeman in the third, but left-hander Eric Stults couldn't hold the lead. Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez worked seven innings for his third win of the season.
With the victory, the Nationals have won eight out of their last 10 games and find themselves at the .500 mark at 15-15, while the Braves dropped to 14-15.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Nats use the long ball: All nine of the Nats' runs came on home runs. Werth hit the first one, a solo shot in the fourth inning. Two innings later, Harper gave Washington the lead with a two-run homer off Stults. In the seventh, Espinosa hit a solo shot off reliever Brandon Cunniff, and in the eighth, Harper hit a three-run homer off Williams Perez and Espinosa connected again, a two-run shot off Trevor Cahill.
"Yeah, I lost the derby," Werth joked. "We have to keep going. You are not going to win by a bunch of homers every night, but it's good to get this first game of the series. Guys are swinging the bats good. We are starting to get in a groove as a team. It's good."
Gio has quality start: Gonzalez won his second straight decision, pitching seven innings, allowing two runs on five hits and striking out eight. In his last two games, Gonzalez is 2-0 with a 1.29 ERA, fanning 17 and walking just three. The last time Gonzalez beat the Braves was July 1, 2012.
Freeman doubles down: Freeman's two doubles gave him eight multi-hit games in his past 12. Freeman is batting .468 (22-for-47) in that stretch with 11 extra-base hits and 10 RBIs and has raised his average from .219 to .324.
"I feel good," he said. "The same plan. The same routine. Just go out there and try to get a strike and swing. That's my plan and it's been working."
Making him pay: When Harper, batting in the fourth inning after Werth's leadoff home run, roped a base hit into left-center field, he had every intention of stretching the hit into a double and aggressively rounded first base. Too aggressively, as Braves center fielder Cameron Maybin relayed to shortstop Andrelton Simmons, who spun and fired to first to catch Harper, who was scrambling back to the base. More >
Mowing them down: Stults was in a jam in the second inning when a Ryan Zimmerman single, a wild pitch and a single by Wilson Ramos put runners on first and third with one out. But Stults struck out Ian Desmond with a 90-mph fastball and did the same to Espinosa with a 91-mph fastball to preserve Atlanta's 1-0 lead. It was a strong ending to an inning that began with a K of Harper.
"He is taking the pitches that they are giving him and he is doing damage."
-- Espinosa on Harper
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
According to Elias, Harper became the first player in Nationals/Expos history to hit five home runs in two games. The last player to do it in the Major Leagues was Josh Reddick of the Athletics on Aug. 9-10, 2013. Harper, 22, is also the youngest to hit five homers in a two-game span.
"I hope I hit two more tomorrow," Harper said. "I think I try to go about my business the right way, keep my same routine every single day. We are facing a great pitcher tomorrow in Julio Teheran. I want to go in there, get on base and help this team win. That's all I want to do. I'm going to work hard and help this team every single night."
WHAT'S NEXT Braves: Teheran gets the start for the middle matchup of this series Saturday at 4:05 p.m. ET. The last time the right-hander faced the Nationals, on April 28, he allowed seven runs (three earned) and 10 hits in 5 2/3 innings of a 13-12 loss, though he did not get the decision.
Nationals: Right-hander Doug Fister will get the start for Washington. In his last start, Fister allowed five hits over 6 1/3 scoreless innings while striking out three Mets. It was the antithesis of his previous outing, in which he allowed five runs (four earned) in 5 2/3 innings against the Braves.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the Time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats. Damian Cristodero is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.