(April 9-April 11)–Washington Sweeps the White Sox at Home

Washington welcomed the Chicago White Sox for their first inter-league match-up of the season on April 9. This series had a little nostalgia for fans as former slugger and fan favorite Adam “The Big Donkey” Dunn returned for the first time since leaving the team as a free agent after the 2010 season.

Dunn received a solid ovation from Washington’s crowd when he entered the second game of the series as a designated hitter whose four-at bat performance was highlighted by a ground out with a man on third base that helped score a run. But the Nationals’ bats came alive in this three-game series with 39 hits in the series and eventually won all three games to remain undefeated at home.

In the first game, Adam LaRoche, Ian Desmond and Jayson Werth all homered as they held on to an 8-7 win. Starting pitcher Gio Gonzales wasn’t his sharpest on the mound, leading to reliever Craig Stammen to eventually take over and notch the second win of the early season from the bullpen. Rafael Soriano was shaky yet still was able to notch his third save.

In the second game, pitcher Jordan Zimmermann scattered seven hits and two runs over seven innings and Bryce Harper unloaded for his fourth home run of the season, a 420-foot moon shot into the second deck in right field as the Nats won, 5-2. Ian Desmond had three hits and Soriano saved his fourth game, second in a row of the series. Game three saw a move fans didn’t expect as Bryce Harper was intentionally walked to get to clean-up hitter Ryan Zimmerman.

To show you how locked in Harper has been so far this season, White Sox Manager Robin Ventura thinks so much of this second-year player that he gave him a free pass to have his pitcher face one of the most professional hitters in all of baseball. Harper’s development may overshadow anything that’s going on right now with the ballclub, but being slighted the way he was, it was only right that Zimmerman put the game on ice with a two-run double after the intentional walk, helping the Nats complete the three-game sweep, 7-4. Dan Haren had a much better second start (albeit he gave up 10 hits in only five innings) and Soriano shut the door with his fifth save of the season, third save in three consecutive games.

(April 12-April 13)–Braves Deal Nats a Wake-Up Call

This weekend series against the Atlanta Braves served as a wake-up call and an early season barometer of what’s to come whenever the Nats have to face such a great ballclub. Washington will have to face Atlanta 19 times this season, and game one of the series this weekend reminded Nats fans that indeed there are some concerns about the team.

In the Friday April 12 game, after squandering a sterling effort by starter Ross Detweiler, in which he gave up just one run in seven innings, the Nats’ heralded bullpen blew the game. The performance was underscored by an awful throwing error by Ryan Zimmerman. Washington fell apart in the extra innings of game one and lost, 6-4.

Also wasted was Bryce Harper’s team leading fifth home run, an opposite field blast and another solid performance by leadoff hitter Denard Span, who has been as good as advertised as the place-setter for the lineup. He currently has an on-base percentage (OBP) of .476 percent.

Washington’s bullpen has not been a strength so far this season. Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen and Raphael Soriano have not been sharp, and because this team has been so solid in the pen for the last four years or so, watching the pen blow leads the way they have these last two weeks is worrying.

The other factor that needs to be addressed is the defense. In 11 games so far this season, the Nats have committed 10 errors, a totally unacceptable rate if you want to have the opportunity to compete in October.

Saturday’s match-up was played under perfect conditions and only the fifth sellout crowd in team history as veteran Tim Hudson outdueled Stephen Strasburg mostly because of an throwing error by Ryan Zimmerman with two outs in the third inning that pulled Adam LaRoche away from the first base bag to field the throw and allowed Braves rookie Evan Gattis in the next at-bat to just destroy a high fastball from Strasburg, giving the Braves a 2-0 lead. The Braves held their two-run advantage for the rest of the game and took a 3-1 victory back to Atlanta.

Player of the Week: Denard Span

As stated earlier, Denard Span has so far exceeded expectations with an on base plus slugging (OPS) percentage of .467 percent, and on defense he has seemingly made every catch in center field seem very ordinary. He’s becoming the most consistent player on the roster not named Bryce Harper. Kudos to general manager Mike Rizzo for the pickup in the off-season.

Next Week:

Washington will take a six-game road trip, with a three-game series in Miami April 15-17 to face the Marlins for the second time this season. The Nats will then head to New York to face the Mets in an April 19-21 series.


Dion Johnson

Special to the AFRO