"Good defense. Timely hitting. That's what it takes," Davey Johnson told reporters after the Washington Nationals' 3-1 win over the defending American League Champions from Detroit Wednesday night in the nation's capital. The Nats beat the Tigers again on Thursday afternoon in D.C. and the 70-year-old skipper said it was more of the same. "It's nice to see us getting some timely hits," Johnson said after the 5-4 curly-W in Nationals Park. "We had a great first couple of innings and kind of slowed down, but I like the progress we're kind of making and it was great today to see [Ryan Zimmerman] swinging the bat really good. And Adam LaRoche continued to swing the bat good. That's the big thing today for me."
Zimmerman was 3 for 4 in support of Nationals' starter Dan Haren. LaRoche, who now has a six-game hit streak over which he's 9 for 17 (.529 AVG), was 2 for 4. Ian Desmond was 1 for 4 and Nats' leadoff man Denard Span went 1 for 3 with a double and two runs scored. Haren did his part on the mound, holding the Tigers to one run on seven hits in five innings pitched before Detroit got to him in the sixth inning. Haren issued a one-out walk to Jhonny Peralta. A two-out infield single by Omar Infante and three-run blast by Matt Tuiasosopo followed and the Tigers pulled within one. Haren stayed on to retire the final batter of the top of the sixth and ended his seventh outing with nine hits, the one walk and four runs allowed in six innings in which he threw 94 pitches, 62 for strikes.
"Haren pitched a good game," Davey Johnson said after the veteran right-hander earned his fourth win. "I guess he made one bad pitch to Too-sa-popo or whatever you call him. Tui-a-sa-so-so-po. But other than that it was a great game."
Johnson said he had a pitcher warmed up after Tuiasosopo's blast, but allowed Haren to finish the frame. "He pitched a good ballgame. It's a tough club. After the home run I had [Ryan] Mattheus ready, but I wanted to let [Haren] finish the inning. I was going to pinch hit and I didn't want to have to double-switch or anything. But if the other guy got on, obviously I would have made a change."
The Nats' skipper was happy with the way his starter battled. "When he had to make pitches, he made pitches and he didn't really get hurt too much by the middle of the lineup. It was fun to watch." Haren told reporters after the game he got through the start in spite of not having great stuff. "I really didn't have much out there," the 32-year-old veteran explained, "I was kind of searching for it all game. Was able to wiggle myself through, but it's just funnny how it works. I held the 1-4 guys in check, and then the bottom of the lineup just killed me."
The Tigers' top four hitters were a combined 4 for 20. Jhonny Peralta and Omar Infante were a combined 5 for 7 with three of Detroit's four runs scored between them.
Davey Johnson said he thought about asking Haren to pitch the seventh before he gave up the three-run home run in the sixth. Instead he went with Ryan Mattheus for the seventh, Drew Storen for the eighth and Rafael Soriano in the ninth to lock down the 5-4 win.
The big story of the day, however, was the Nats' offense starting to come together. "Good defense. Timely hitting." Add to that more consistent outings from the starters and stronger work from the pen and the Nationals' manager said it's starting to look like the team that won the NL East in 2012. "This is what we did last year," Johnson said, "And we're going to get healthier. I think probably one more day for [Jayson Werth] and [he'll] probably be back. But, that was our formula last year. Timely hitting and good pitching. And the starting pitching has been much more consistent and the bullpen is starting to fall into different roles which is good."
Good news for the Nats. Bad news for the rest of the National League.