May 04

Pitchers take over as Nats find footing

This is the Washington Nationals’ pitching staff we’ve been waiting to see.

Since coming back from 9-1 and 10-2 deficits to beat the Braves 13-12 last Tuesday, in a game that may well be remembered as the defining moment of the 2015 season, the Nats have won four of five games behind starting pitching that has been just about lights out.

In this latest turn through the rotation, Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer, Gio Gonzalez and Doug Fister have gone 4-1 with a cumulative 1.65 ERA. They have a run of 21 straight scoreless innings, including back-to-back 1-0 wins, when they had no room for error. Even in the one loss, Scherzer arguably outpitched the Mats’ Matt Harvey, striking out 10 to Harvey’s three, with the only score coming on Michael Cuddyer’s solo home run to Citifield’s shortened-up fence in right-centerfield.

The next two games, when they had to be brilliant, Gonzalez and Fister were nothing less. Although Gonzalez kept the bases clean in just two innings, he masterfully worked out of a second-and-third jam in the fifth, getting Lucas Duda to ground out, and got some help in the first and sixth, when the Mets ran themselves out of those innings.

Fister pitched the way he did last year when he tied for the team lead in wins after missing the first month of the season. He was never in trouble after the first, and produced shutdown innings in the fourth and sixth after the Mets might have stolen the momentum by stranding Washington runners in scoring position.

As good as the starters have been, the much-maligned bullpen has been even better. The only runs Nats relievers have allowed in the past five games were three in Friday’s 4-0 loss, two of which scored on a ball that got behind left fielder Jayson Werth when he slipped. Even with the runs allowed Friday, that’s just three earned runs in 11 innings, a 2.45 ERA.

The result of all this is that the Nats have won one series, then another, salvaging a 5-5 road trip that began in embarrassing fashion, with a sweep at the hands of a struggling Marlins team. Now the Nats have a chance to redeem themselves against those same Marlins and gain ground in the NL East with a series win, or even get back above .500 with a sweep.

There are still some rough edges to take care of, especially clutch hitting. But by building on their greatest strength – pitching – the Nats have strung series wins together for the first time all season and seemingly solved mistake-prone play that plagued them for the first month of the season.

The pitching staff will likely need to continue carrying the team until veteran hitters like Werth and Ian Desmond can find their footing, and 2015 team MVP Anthony Rendon returns from the knee injury that has kept him sidelined so far this season.