Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
John Lannan faces fellow lefty J.A. Happ tonight at Nationals Park.
These are the broader questions surrounding tonight's game at Nationals Park. On a more-specific level, will John Lannan continue his superb second half, one that has seen the left-hander post a 6-2 record while allowing more than three runs only once? And can the Nats get some semblance of offensive production from the bottom half of their lineup? That group hasn't exactly been tearing it up lately, especially Roger Bernadina, who since the All-Star break is hitting .226 with a .279 on-base percentage and .633 OPS.
Bernadina, who has typically been hitting fifth since Josh Willingham's season came to a premature end, has been dropped down to seventh tonight against Astros lefty J.A. Happ. Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn have been flip-flopped, with Michael Morse and Ivan Rodriguez each bumped up a spot to bat fifth and sixth, respectively.
Check back for updates throughout...
ASTROS at NATIONALS
Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m.
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM
Weather: Sunny, 75 degrees, Wind 8 mph out to LF
2B Danny Espinosa
SS Ian Desmond
1B Adam Dunn
3B Ryan Zimmerman
RF Michael Morse
C Ivan Rodriguez
LF Roger Bernadina
CF Justin Maxwell
P John Lannan
CF Jason Bourgeois
2B Jeff Keppinger
RF Hunter Pence
1B Carlos Lee
LF Jason Michaels
3B Chris Johnson
SS Tommy Manzella
C Jason Castro
P J.A. Happ
7:00 p.m. -- Impossible as this is to believe, there appear to be even fewer people here at the ballpark tonight than there were last night, when they drew the smallest crowd in team history.
7:05 p.m. -- John Lannan starts Jason Bourgeois off with a fastball for ball one. Joe Proletariat on-deck for the Astros. That joke never gets old.
7:15 p.m. -- Well, this one's off to a rousing start. Five batters in, the Astros already lead 3-0 via back-to-back singles from Bourgeois and Jeff Keppinger and a bomb down the left-field line from Jason Michaels. Thus Lannan, who as noted above had allowed three or more runs once twice in nine starts since returning from the minors, has already allowed three in the top of the first tonight.
7:19 p.m. -- Something must have happened to Hunter Pence running out his first-inning grounder, because he didn't take the field for the bottom of the first. Brian Bogusevic now in right field for Houston and batting third.
7:21 p.m. -- Danny Espinosa's numbers through his first five big-league games: 9-for-16, three homers, 10 RBI. Danny Espinosa's numbers through his next 12-plus games (including his strikeout to open the bottom of the first just now): 5-for-47, one homer, one RBI, 17 strikeouts.
7:23 p.m. -- The medical update on Pence: He left the game with "discomfort in his right hip flexor."
7:33 p.m. -- Lannan got himself in trouble again in the second, putting two on with two out. But he caught a break when Bourgeois tried to steal third and was gunned down by Ivan Rodriguez. So it remains 3-0 heading to the bottom of the second.
7:53 p.m. -- Three innings down and nary a hit for the Nationals against Happ. Only batter to reach is Dunn, who walked in the first. Espinosa did tag a ball to right in the bottom of the third, but Bogusevic made a nice play to make the catch.
8:07 p.m. -- Lannan has settled down, allowing one hit and one walk over his last three innings and retiring six straight. But Happ still hasn't allowed a hit through four innings. He's also recorded four strikeouts. Not that I would ever openly root for a no-hitter by an opposing pitcher, but if someone has to do it, I'd certainly prefer it be a fellow Northwestern University alum like Mr. Happ. (That's my official attempt at jinxing him, by the way.)
8:31 p.m. -- Ha, what do you know, Morse leads off the bottom of the fifth with a single to center, foiling Happ's no-hit bid. Of course, Morse later got caught in a rundown when he tried to score on Bernadina's comebacker. That foiled the Nats' hopes of scoring for the first time tonight. A nice play at third by Johnson on a ball smoked by Espinosa didn't help, either. Lannan just cruised through the top of the sixth, so we head to the bottom of that inning with the Astros still leading 3-0.
8:46 p.m. -- Another missed opportunity for the Nats. Two on, two out in the sixth. Pudge worked the count to 2-2. Then he lined the ball right at second baseman Jeff Keppinger. That ended the inning with a big zero still on the board for the home team.
8:53 p.m. -- Tonight's official paid attendance: 11,893. Almost 1,000 more people than last night! NatsTown is alive and well!
8:58 p.m. -- As good as Happ was tonight, he was not very economic on the mound. So with his pitch count at 111 after only six innings, he's done for the night. Right-hander Mark Melancon (one of the players acquired from the Yankees in the Lance Berkman trade) now pitching for Houston.
9:08 p.m. -- The Nats are on the board. Yes, they're on the board thanks to back-to-back doubles from Bernadina and Maxwell. Yes, Bernadina and Maxwell. Unfortunately, that's the only run they scored, even though Maxwell advanced to third on a pitch in the dirt. Willie Harris, though, was called out on a check swing. Espinosa hit a shallow fly ball to center. And Desmond also was called out on a check swing. So it's 3-1 after seven, with Tyler Clippard now coming in to pitch. Lannan wound up allowing three runs in seven innings, all of them coming in the first. That's his fifth straight quality start, though at the moment he's in line to take the loss.
9:20 p.m. -- Congrats to Tyler Clippard, the first relief pitcher in D.C. baseball history to record 100 strikeouts in a season.
9:38 p.m. -- Yes, you saw that correctly. Ivan Rodriguez did indeed just hit a game-tying, two-run homer off the left-field foul pole on an 0-2 pitch. It's now 3-3 in the bottom of the eighth thanks to Pudge's fourth homer of the season.
9:48 p.m. -- And now the Nats have taken a 4-3 lead on Adam Kennedy's two-out single to right off Felipe Paulino. ... Whoa, make it 5-3 on a wild pitch. Drew Storen is currently warming in the pen, looks like he'll get a shot at the save after blowing Sunday's game in Philly.
9:55 p.m. -- Now the Nats are piling on, with Ian Desmond driving in another run to make it 6-3. With a man on third, there may not even be a save opportunity tonight. Oh, and guess who's in line for the win? Tyler Clippard, seeking his 10th victory of the year (which would tie him with Livo for the team lead).
10:00 p.m. -- This is bordering on the absurd now. Eight straight Nationals batters have reached safely with two outs in the eighth, turning a 3-1 deficit into an 8-3 lead. They were down to their last strike in this inning when Pudge cranked that homer off the foul pole and they haven't let up since. Remarkable.
10:05 p.m. -- Here comes Drew Storen to finish this off, trying to protect a five-run lead.
10:10 p.m. -- Hold the phone. Chris Johnson blasts a homer into the Red Porch off Storen, making it 8-4 with one out in the ninth.
10:16 p.m. -- Wow, Riggleman just pulled Storen with two outs, one on and the Nats leading by four. Drew didn't look too happy. It'll be Sean Burnett to face pinch-hitter Geoff Blum and possibly end this game.
10:18 p.m. -- One pitch from Burnett and it's over. Nats win 8-4. Clippard gets his 10th win, tying Livo for the team lead. It'll be a race to the finish between those two.