After winning an intense showdown with the Philadelphia Phillies, the Nationals will take on yet another new look as they head to Pittsburgh for a three-game series with the Pirates, starting tonight.
The three-game set with the Phillies lived up to its billing, as the Nats won a thrilling 11-inning game on Friday, a laugher on Saturday and then fell on Sunday in the most eventful game of the series. Philly starter Cole Hamels earned himself a five-game suspension — in which MASN.com’s Dan Kolko reports he might not miss a start — by admitting to plunking Bryce Harper on the first pitch of the game. Harper, of course, got some payback by stealing home later in the inning. Nats starter Jordan Zimmermann hit Hamels when he came to bat, although he denied doing it on purpose.
The worst news for the Nationals might have been the injury to Jayson Werth, who broke his left wrist while trying to make a sliding catch in the sixth inning. Kolko reports that Werth will be out for about 12 weeks. Meanwhile, Werth tells the Washington Post’s Adam Kilgore in an e-mail that he’ll be motivated to get back on the field by the thoughts of Phillies fans taunting him as he walked off the field. He told Kilgore he wants to “see to it personally those people never walk down Broad Street in celebration again,”
Pretty strong words to continue what is turning into an intense divisional rivalry. Piled onto all that was the Nats’ “Our Park” campaign, in which the home fans successfully diluted and quieted a Phillies fan base that has been dominating Phillies-Nats games in Washington for the past several years.
In reality, all that series proved was that a young team, battling some injuries, with some outstanding starting pitching, was better than an aging team, also missing a couple of inured stars, on one particular weekend in May. These two teams will play 15 more times this season, starting with what will most assuredly be a tense series at Citizens Bank Park in about two weeks.
Now the Nats have to move on without Werth for the time being, but the good news is, they’ll get one or two of their top offensive weapons back. Ryan Zimmerman tells Kilgore his right shoulder “felt good” taking full batting practice for the first time on Sunday, and plans to return in tonight’s series opener against Pittsburgh. Zimmerman, hitting .224 with 7 RBIs this season, was just starting to get into his groove at the plate, hitting his first home run of the season the day before the sore shoulder forced him from the lineup.
The Nationals’ best hitter this season, Adam LaRoche (311/.392/.511)., could also return from an oblique injury during this series.He tells Kilgore that an MRI revealed a bruise, not a strain, and that he was swinging “at about 60 percent” strength on Sunday.
With their regular third- and fourth-place hitters back in the lineup, the Nats won’t miss Werth quite so much, and their presence will also put less pressure on Harper, who has responded about as well as a rookie can to being thrust into the No. 3 spot in the order.
Of course, the Nats will continue to rely heavily on their starting pitching, which has been the best in baseball. Edwin Jackson (1-1, 3.69) takes on A.J. Burnett (1-2, 8.04) in the series opener tonight, and Ross Detwiler (3-1, 1.59) goes against Erik Bedard (2-4, 2.65) on Wednesday night. The Nats have not announced their starter for Thurday’s series finale, but that spot in the rotation normally goes to Stephen Strasburg (2-0, 1.66). The Pirates will start Kevin Correia (1-2, 3.38).