Harper slugs 11th, 12th HRs; Nats win 6th in row

Right fielder has helped ignite offense as the leadoff hitter

May 4th, 2018

WASHINGTON -- The leadoff-hitter experiment continues to produce spectacular results up and down the lineup of Nationals, who continued to roll in Friday's 7-3 victory over the Phillies, their sixth consecutive win.

Batting first has jump-started Harper, who launched a home run in his first two at-bats. Matt Adams is raking from the No. 3 spot in the lineup where he hammered his fourth home run in four games. has been an effective No. 9 hitter, frequently getting on base to set up a rally. Left-hander continued his strong start to the season, pitching around a 39-minute rain delay, with five scoreless innings to help continue this season-high winning streak.

"We're doing a great job," Harper said. "Keep having good at-bats, keep pitching the ball well. Bullpen threw the ball well. As a team, just trying to get some at-bats going, staying strong out there, and doing things we can to get on base and score some runs, and win some ball games."

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What started as an unorthodox idea from manager Dave Martinez to try and get Harper more pitches in the strike zone has become the norm for Washington as Harper has started to heat up again and ignite the rest of this offense with him. He began the game with an opposite-field home run against Phillies right-hander , his second career leadoff home run.

"It pumps everybody up," Martinez said. "It really does. Leadoff hitter hits a home run to lead off the game, that's pretty nice."

Difo drew a walk to begin the second inning to bring up Harper, who hit a no-doubter to dead center against Pivetta, which traveled 473 feet. That's the longest home run Harper has hit since Statcast™ began tracking in 2015. It gives Harper 12 home runs this season, the most in the National League, and four since moving to the leadoff spot.

"He's an animal out there," Adams said. "It's fun to share the field with him."

Adams added to the scoring barrage with a two-run home run of his own in the second inning. The Nationals did not expect him to play this often when they signed him as a free agent this offseason, but with their injury-depleted lineup, his bat has become too hot to keep on the bench. So Adams has become their primary left fielder, which paid off in the fourth inning when he made a leaping catch at the wall to rob of a home run.

"Wow, that was just Big City being Big City," Gonzalez said. "It was just unreal. Not only he's hitting homers, he's robbing homers. The guy's doing it all."

Initially, Martinez unveiled this lineup to get the Nationals through a stretch where they were having difficulty scoring runs and it has paid off. Now he finds himself with a bit of quandary with expected to return from the disabled list on Saturday, which would move Difo from the starting lineup.

So Martinez has a decision to make whether even with the addition of Rendon, he will keep Harper at the top of the lineup, one that has carried Washington back over .500 for the first time since April 10.

"We'll see. I got to sleep on it," Martinez said. "The good news is we're getting Rendon back, and that's good to see."

SOUND SMART

Difo has reached base in 12 of his 15 plate appearances since becoming the team's No. 9 hitter, setting the table for Harper to hit with men on base.

Harper, and Adams -- the Nats' 1-2-3 hitters -- have combined to go 16-for-46 (.348) with two doubles, nine home runs, 21 RBIs, eight walks and 17 runs scored since Martinez put them at the top of the order.

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS

Playing on a loop on the TV screens in the clubhouse after the game was footage of Adams' leaping catch at the wall in left field to rob a home run. Adams works each day to grow more comfortable in the outfield, but he laughed at the thought of him working on robbing home runs.

"He's got the hops to get it out there," Gonzalez said with a laugh.

Adams added: "They were giving me some crap about how not so high I can jump. I made the catch. That's all that really matters. I'm just going to run with that."

UP NEXT

The Nationals' already hot lineup is expected to receive a boost with Rendon scheduled to return from the disabled list for Saturday's game against the Phillies at 4:05 p.m. ET. The third baseman has not played since fouling a ball off his left foot on April 13. will match up on the mound with Vince Velasquez.