Nationals' relievers Tom Gorzelanny, Ryan Mattheus, Michael Gonzalez, Sean Burnett and Craig Stammen all threw in Colorado on Thursday in the Washington's extra innings loss to the Rockies, so Nats' skipper Davey Johnson had to ask a little more of Ross Detwiler Friday night in Atlanta than he might have otherwise. The Nationals led 4-0 going into the seventh last night in the first of three in Turner Field. Detwiler started the inning at 74 pitches, but his shutout bid ended pretty quickly in the bottom of the frame. The 26-year-old left-hander put a runner on with one out when he hit Freddie Freeman. A single, balk, RBI hit and sac fly followed and Atlanta was right back in the game, down 4-2. The 19th pitch of the inning was a 1-2 slider up in the zone to Braves' shortstop Andrelton Simmons. It landed just over the wall in the left-field stands for a two-run blast and a tie game. Simmon's third home run of 2012 ended Detwiler's outing.
"Our bullpen was kind of beat up," Davey Johnson told reporters after the game, "But it's a shame. [Detwiler] should have gotten the win. I wish I could have gotten him the win." Luckily for the Nats, Michael Morse is swinging a hot bat, and while Detwiler didn't get the win, the Nationals did. Morse was 9 for 19 with a double and a home run in the four-game series in Colorado and he continued to hit in Turner Field last night, going 4 for 4 with the fourth hit a solo home run to start the eighth on the first pitch of the inning following the Braves' rally. "Thank goodness for Morse getting us back on top," Davey Johnson said, "That set up my bullpen again."
Morse's third home run of the season left him 13 for 23 in the last five games and gave the Nationals a 5-4 lead that Sean Burnett and Tyler Clippard locked down. "[Morse] has been looking better and better every day," the Nats' manager said, "In Colorado he started looking more relaxed and more comfortable in there. And, shoot, he's back hitting what he usually hits, so, it's nice to have him back."
"[Ryan Zimmerman's] swinging that bat better," Johnson continued when asked about his suddenly-red-hot middle of the order, "Hit the heck out of one ball. I feel good about [Zimmerman], and Morse. I'm going to probably move [Morse] back into the cleanup spot cause I think he's going good. I'm only concerned he's got a little bad leg and we might have to watch that. Other than that, I like what's going on."
The Nats' manager told reporters that Morse approached him before the eighth inning at bat and told him that the hamstring issue that has been troubling him for a few days was acting up, so Johnson planned on replacing Morse with a pinch runner if he reached base, but the outfielder's home run allowed the manager to wait and just make a defensive replacement after the top of the inning instead. Johnson said he joked with Morse that hitting a home run was one way to keep him from running for the slugger and he laughed when informed by reporters that the 30-year-old was 4 for 4 on the night and 12 for 19 in the last four games. "That helps your average," Johnson deadpanned.
Morse's big night at the plate left him with a .294/.308/.441 line on the year after 25 games and 107 plate appearances. Ryan Zimmerman, who was 2 for 5 last night, is now 11 for 28 (.393/.414/.714) with three doubles and two home runs in six games since receiving a cortisone shot in his injured right shoulder. Davey Johnson's finally getting the middle of the lineup "thunder" he's been waiting for all year.
Also of significance is the fact that Morse's HR last night was an opposite field blast, a sign of the return of his power that his manager has been looking for since Morse started his season late following a lat issue that sidelined him in Spring Training. "It's a whole new ballgame," Johnson said back in early June, when Morse returned and the manager finally had the middle of the lineup he expected to start the season with back at the plate. "Michael Morse is warming up and there's not going to be much let-up in that middle of the lineup, and the first two guys are going to get on and then the thunder's coming. I've been waiting on it."
The Nats' 69-year-old skipper saw the signs then that Morse, who'd played just seven games on a rehab stint before returning to the majors, was starting to hit the ball to the other way and get comfortable at the plate. When he's healthy, Johnson said, "He hits the ball as hard [to right] as he does [to left]." Provided Zimmerman's able to keep it going with the shoulder seemingly less of an issue than it was a week ago and Morse swinging the bat like it's 2011 again, the Nationals finally have the middle of the lineup thunder Johnson's looked for and promised would make a difference in his at times offensively-challenged lineup. He's been getting the pitching and defense he's needed to win all season and now suddenly the offense is firing up too. If they can stay healthy and use the All-Star Break to rest up, it's going to be one interesting second-half in the nation's capital.