A four-game win streak. Four games over .500. 4.0 games back in the NL East. Washington Nationals' manager Davey Johnson was in a good mood after the Nats' 11-7 win over the San Diego Padres on Sunday gave them a sweep of the three-game set in the nation's capital. The Nationals went 5-2 on the homestand. Now they head out for seven on the road in Philadelphia and Miami, starting with tonight's game against the Phillies in Citizens Bank Park.
"I feel good," Johnson told reporters. "I mean, we had a good homestand. A lot of good things happened. It was a tough day for [Stephen] Strasburg out there. He was battling. I thought he threw good. Sometimes he fights himself when he doesn't make the perfect pitch, but he threw a good ballgame."
Strasburg threw 111 pitches in 6.0 IP and left the game with an 11-4 lead, giving up a run in his last inning of work when he seemed to hit a wall in 90° heat in the nation's capital.
Craig Stammen took over on the mound in the seventh and gave up three runs, two earned on five hits. So far in July, the right-handed reliever has surrendered 10 hits and six runs, five earned in 4.0 IP. "Stammen just -- seems like the last couple weeks he's been snakebit," Davey Johnson said Sunday, "Everything he does."
"But the bullpen did a good job and the offense is really looking good. They're getting quality at bats all throughout the lineup. And that's the big thing. I don't so much worry about where we're at right now, I mean, I just feel good going into the second half. We've got a tough series with a couple of division foes coming up, they're both playing good, we should be ready for them."
The Phillies just took two of three from the Braves. The Marlins were 15-10 in June to get them from 15-41 to 30-51 on July 1st, though they just dropped three straight on the road to St. Louis. The Nationals' offense is humming though, finally, after several weeks of the Nats' skipper saying he saw things coming around. "Everybody throughout the lineup now is giving [us] quality at bats," Johnson said, "Not giving up at bats. Once that happens, that kind of takes the pressure off everybody. And I like what's going on."
Johnson has been waiting for weeks for the offense to kick in as it did after a slow start last season on the Nats' trip to Coors Field in Colorado and the last few weeks have seen the lineup produce as their manager thought they should have from the start. '"It's a long season," he told reporters Sunday, "and momentum shifts can take place any time. I mean, last year our momentum shifted a little after we started getting healthier after Colorado.
"Our offense was down, our pitching was really holding us in. Our run differential was a little bit better, but not much, it was on the positive side. But we've had injuries to the pitching staff. We've had all those things. You just have to ride them out and not lose faith. And I think that's right where we're at. All we have to do is play well, play up to our potential like what I said we had to do to win the division last year. We've played below our potential, and now we're coming around, so that's a good feeling."
The Nationals got Bryce Harper and Wilson Ramos back to boost the offense, but it was Ryan Zimmerman's grand slam that got the Nationals out to a big lead on Sunday before they piled on and took the finale with the Padres. So far in July, the Nats' 28-year-old third baseman is 9 for 26 (.346/.400/.462). Though the slam was Zimmerman's first extra base hit in the last nine games, the Nats' manager said he likes what he's seen from Zimmerman at the plate.
"He's been more aggressive," Johnson explained. "He's been stinging the ball. Hitting the ball harder. I mean he got his hits in the first half of the season, but he wasn't hitting the ball like he's capable of hitting it."
The home run on Sunday was an opposite field line drive that cleared the out-of-town scoreboard, usually a good sign that Zimmerman is getting together. Asked what he meant when he said Zimmerman was "more aggressive," Johnson explained. "Earlier in the count, getting a pitch and driving it. And in the past I think he sometimes would look for the perfect pitch to hit and drive and then get in a pitcher's count and not hit the ball as hard as he's capable of hitting it. So we're just opening that up a little bit more. And that's, that's a great sign. And pretty much everybody in the lineup now is getting more aggressive."
And the Nationals just added a veteran bench bat to the mix with the acquisition of Scott Hairston in last night's trade with the Chicago Cubs. Hairston's not in Philadelphia yet, but he's expected to arrive in time for the start of tonight's game with the Phillies.
• Here's Davey Johnson's lineup for the first game of four in Citizens Bank Park:
Davey's Lineup, Mon. @ PHi/G89: Span cf, Desmond ss, Harper lf, Zimmerman 3b, Werth rf, LaRoche 1b, Rendon 2b, Ramos c, Haren rhp— Vote #DesiIn13 (@NationalsPR) July 8, 2013