WASHINGTON -- Fans at Nationals Park hardly stopped cheering Saturday afternoon as the Washington Capitals were recognized for their Stanley Cup win, Bryce Harper homered and the Nationals earned a 7-5 victory over the Giants.But the first of those loud ovations came about 20 minutes before first pitch, when Adam
WASHINGTON -- Fans at Nationals Park hardly stopped cheering Saturday afternoon as the Washington Capitals were recognized for their Stanley Cup win, Bryce Harper homered and the Nationals earned a 7-5 victory over the Giants.
But the first of those loud ovations came about 20 minutes before first pitch, when Adam Eaton ran onto the field to warm up for the first time since April 8. Eaton had been on the disabled list for about two months due to a left ankle injury.
Those cheers for Eaton continued throughout the first two innings, as the 29-year-old sparked the Nationals' offense in the leadoff role. Washington scored a combined five runs in the first two innings behind Eaton's two runs.
The Nationals then used timely insurance runs and a stingy bullpen to hold off San Francisco.
"[Eaton] got on base a bunch of times for us, and he makes things go," Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. "So it's nice. With him and Trea [Turner] up there, they make things happen, so it's really nice. Plus, it gives us a little bit more length in our lineup."
The day began when the Nationals celebrated the Capitals' NHL championship with a pregame ceremony and star Alex Ovechkin throwing out the first pitch. The Capitals continued to energize the crowd throughout the game by raising the Stanley Cup trophy from their suite.
Dereck Rodriguez hit Eaton with a pitch to start the game, and then a walk and single helped the Nationals score a run in the first inning. Washington then used singles from Spencer Kieboom, Eaton, Trea Turner and Harper, as well as Matt Adams' double, to plate four runs in the second. Eaton finished the day 1-for-4 with a hit by pitch after leaving the game as part of a double switch after the seventh. Rodriguez exited after just 2 2/3 frames.
But Giovany Gonzalez, who entered Saturday with the fourth-best ERA of qualified starters in the National League, also struggled. Gonzalez permitted a three-run home run to Nick Hundley in the third inning before allowing another run in the fourth. The left-hander lasted just 3 1/3 innings for his shortest outing since September 2016.
"Those guys have a pretty good lineup over there, a lot of right-handed hitters," Martinez said. "Those guys, they worked the count, got him up to 3-2, and his pitch count got up."
Gonzalez's poor start comes a day after Stephen Strasburg exited early with right shoulder inflammation, so the Nationals again leaned on their bullpen. Washington announced Saturday that it would place Strasburg on the DL.
Nationals relievers only allowed one more run, however, to preserve the lead. Brandon Kintzler, one of the Nationals' late-inning options, left with a tight right forearm in the eighth inning, though. The right-hander will undergo an MRI on Sunday.
Harper helped Washington maintain its advantage with a home run in the fourth inning. The Nationals added another run in the seventh off Kieboom's first career extra-base hit, and Sean Doolittle preserved the victory with a four-out save.
"Hats off to the bullpen coming in there and doing the job that it did," Eaton said. "And then for us not giving up."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Harper entered his at-bat in the fourth inning with just four hits in his previous 28 at-bats, in the midst of perhaps his worst slump this season. But Harper -- who played center field for the first time since October 2015 to make room for Eaton -- helped Washington regain momentum by hitting his 19th home run of the season off Giants reliever Ty Blach.
The dinger was Harper's first extra-base hit since he homered against the Orioles on May 30. The 437-foot home run left Harper's bat with an exit velocity 109.1 mph, according to Statcast™.
In relief of Gonzalez, Justin Miller threw 1 2/3 scoreless innings to maintain Washington's lead. Miller entered the game in the fourth inning with the bases loaded and one out. Only one run scored the rest of the frame after Andrew McCutchen's sacrifice fly. Miller hasn't allowed a run in nine innings since joining the Nationals in May.
"I've always been kind of a strikeout guy," Miller said. "I'm just trying to fill up the zone."
Every fifth day when Max Scherzer takes the mound, there is a solid chance he could make history. In his last start, he threw an immaculate inning for the second time in his career as he continues to state his case for another Cy Young Award. Scherzer will face the Giants for Sunday's series finale at 4:05 p.m. ET. San Francisco left-hander Derek Holland will be the opposing pitcher.
Kyle Melnick is a reporter for MLB.com based in Washington.