Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
After a brutal stretch of road games, the Nats are back in town for a big homsetand.
Thus, 19 of the Nationals' last 24 games came on the road. Their record over that span? A disappointing 9-15.
At last, the Nats return home for a nice stretch. Twelve of their next 18 are at the friendly confines, with only trips to Cleveland and Detroit coming up.
This is not, however, an easy weekend. The Reds are playing very good baseball, are battling the Cardinals for the NL Central lead and boast a potent lineup that leads the NL in runs, hits, homers, batting average, on-base percentage and OPS. It's Livan Hernandez's challenge to shut those guys down tonight and stop a three-game losing streak.
Check back for updates throughout...
REDS at NATIONALS
Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m.
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM
Weather: Chance of storms, 85 degrees, Wind 7 mph out to CF
2B Cristian Guzman
CF Nyjer Morgan
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam Dunn
LF Josh Willingham
RF Roger Bernadina
SS Ian Desmond
C Wil Nieves
P Livan Hernandez
SS Orlando Cabrera
2B Brandon Phillips
1B Joey Votto
3B Scott Rolen
RF Jay Bruce
LF Jonny Gomes
CF Drew Stubbs
C Ramon Hernandez
P Aaron Harang
5:49 p.m. -- Ivan Rodriguez injury update: Though he's made some serious progress in his return from a lower back strain, Pudge may not be ready to come off the DL in time to catch Stephen Strasburg Tuesday night. That's the first day he's eligible to return, and he should be ready to play in some kind of game by then. But the Nats would prefer he gets at least (maybe two) rehab games at Class A Potomac first. If Rodriguez can make enough strides the next two days, he could maybe go on the rehab Sunday. If not, it may have to wait until Tuesday. "In a perfect world, I'd love to have Pudge here to catch [Strasburg's debut]," Jim Riggleman said. "But that's going to be secondary to whether we think he's 100 percent or not. If there's any doubt, we'll hold him back."
7:19 p.m. -- Didn't take long for the Nats' shaky defense to rear its ugly head again. Wil Nieves misfired on a stolen-base attempt and allowed Brandon Phillips to advance to third with one out. But Livan Hernandez did his usual masterful job pitching his way out of a jam. He struck out Joey Votto on a 3-2 fastball, and after pitching around Scott Rolen got Jay Bruce to ground out to end the inning unscathed. Big crowd on hand, and they're still pouring in from the center-field gate. Looks like most people decided to come out even thought Strasburg isn't here.
7:33 p.m. -- The Nats put together some good swings against Aaron Harang in the bottom of the first, but have nothing to show for it. Nyjer Morgan continued his recent upswing with a base hit to right. And Adam Dunn sent a line shot past Votto at first base for a two-out double. But Josh Willingham just got under Harang's pitch a bit and lofted a routine fly ball to the warning track in center field to end the inning. Scoreless after one.
7:45 p.m. -- It would appear the Reds plan to run on Livo and Nieves tonight. Drew Stubbs swiped second base in the top of the second, and that helped produce the night's first run. Ramon Hernandez followed with a soft single to left, and Willingham's throw to the plate wasn't in time to nail Stubbs. Cincinnati takes an early 1-0 lead.
8:01 p.m. -- Credit where credit's due. Cristian Guzman put together a great at-bat in the bottom of the second, battling his way to a full count before sending a base hit over the shortstop's head. Ian Desmond raced around to score, so we are tied 1-1 after two.
8:20 p.m. -- I was saying to another writer a little while ago that Roger Bernadina seems to come up with one good swing per game, that's all. He had a bad one in the second inning, tapping a weak grounder to first. But he just came through in the third, lining an RBI single to center to put the Nats up 2-1. If history holds true, Bernadina will be shut down the rest of the night. If he's going to stick up here and make it as an everyday player, he's going to need to start putting together multiple good ABs per game.
8:32 p.m. -- Plenty of chances for both clubs so far in this one; neither Livan Hernandez nor Aaron Harang has recorded a 1-2-3 inning yet. Livo, though, has done a nice job pitching his around all the baserunners. He's thrown 70 pitches through four. Harang, meanwhile, has already thrown a whopping 81 pitches through only three innings, allowing seven hits and a walk. The Nats only have two runs so far, but Harang isn't going to be long for this game at this rate.
8:42 p.m. -- Ninety-eight pitches for Harang through four. Yet the Nats have only scored twice. Still 2-1.
9:26 p.m. -- Boy, what a difference it makes when right field is being manned by a, you know, right fielder instead of a shortstop. Roger Bernadina with a game-saving catch on Micah Owings drive down the line, a fabulous, full-extension dive to his left to end the sixth and keep the game tied 2-2. Livo is done now, having thrown 111 pitches and put 12 men on base. Somehow only allowed two runs. So what do you know: It's another close, tight game heading into the latter innings, and it all comes down to the Nats bullpen. Haven't seen this before.
9:40 p.m. -- I will preface this by saying I do genuinely believe Adam Dunn is a good ballplayer and does a lot of good things for the Nationals. He does more good things than bad things. But after grounding out on the first pitch he saw from lefty Daniel Ray Herrera to end the sixth and leave this game tied 2-2, Dunn is now 0-for-22 with two outs and runners in scoring position this season. Oh-for-22. That's not a statistical anomaly. That's a reasonable sample size.
9:45 p.m. -- Tonight's paid attendance: 33,774. And that number isn't inflated. It looks like that many people are actually here.
9:58 p.m. -- Um, good thing Ian Desmond couldn't get that sacrifice bunt attempt down. Once he was behind in the count 0-2, Riggleman let the rookie swing away. And he delivered, as he done several times this season. Sharp base hit to left, scoring Willingham and putting the Nats on top 3-2 in the seventh. Right now, the Nats may not have a better hitter in the clutch than Desmond.
10:06 p.m. -- Wow, what a strange sequence of events there. Bernadina scored on a sac fly and Desmond appeared to reach third. But Dusty Baker argued his foot came off the bag. The umps huddled up, and somehow emerged having decided Desmond did come off the bag. Replays showed that was the correct call, but how did a consortium of umps come to that conclusion and overrule third-base ump Paul Schrieber, who had the best view of the play? Meanwhile, Desmond was ejected by Joe West for screaming out something after getting called out. So Alberto Gonzalez is now in at shortstop, with the Nats leading 4-2 in the eighth.
10:13 p.m. -- Great job by Drew Storen getting through the eighth inning. He just blew away Ramon Hernandez with a 96 mph fastball. Still 4-2 heading to the bottom of the eighth. Clippard, by the way, is in line for the win, his eighth. Matt Capps warming up to pitch the ninth. Riggleman hasn't lost faith in his closer.
10:26 p.m. -- Here we go ... it's the Final Countdown. Can Capps hold the two-run lead and get the Nats back on the winning track? He better hope his defense is ready to play.
10:27 p.m. -- Whoa, Capps has changed his entry song. It's some country ditty I've never heard. No more Final Countdown? I'm crushed.
10:37 p.m. -- High drama in the ninth once again. Two singles brought the winning run to the plate with one out, but Capps gets the job done. Struck out the dangerous Joey Votto with a nice 0-2 fastball on the inside corner, then got Scott Rolen to pop up to end the game. Nats win 4-2. Clippard improves to 8-3. Capps gets his 18th save. Nats improve to 27-29.