Nats knock out Niese early, hang on vs. Mets
Werth's catch at wall helps Soriano avoid blown save, rewards Roark
WASHINGTON -- With an already righty-heavy lineup ravaged by injuries to its two most potent left-handers, Adam LaRoche and Bryce Harper, the Nationals' lineup has become a murderers' row to left-handed pitching.
Just one inning into Friday's game against the Mets at Nationals Park, New York lefty Jonathon Niese felt the pressure that this lineup can put on pitchers like him. Couple that unfavorable matchup with some rare defensive miscues from the team with the third-fewest errors in the Majors, and it becomes tough for an opponent like the Mets to down the Nats.
"Our power guys are right-handed predominantly," Washington manager Matt Williams said. "That speaks well to the matchups against a lefty, but you still have to have a nice approach and stay on the baseball. I think it's good that we have a lot of guys that hit the ball to the opposite gap, so when you're facing a left-hander, it helps to have that natural approach."
The Nats got some strong at-bats from lefty killers Scott Hairston and Jayson Werth to jump on Niese early and put New York away by the end of the third inning. Both outfielders laced a pair of hits and tallied an RBI and a run to give starting pitcher Tanner Roark the run support he needed and give the Nationals a 5-2 win in front of 34,413.
On just the second batter of the game for Washington, David Wright misplayed a short hop at third base to give the Nats runners on first and second with none out and Werth -- who entered the game 14-for-32 against lefties -- coming to the plate.
The outfielder lined an RBI single to left, and by the end of the night, Werth had raised his batting average against lefties to .457.
After a sacrifice fly by catcher Wilson Ramos, the Mets had a chance to escape the inning without further damage, but Daniel Murphy bobbled a potential double-play ball at second base and Werth was able to score to give the Nationals a three-run cushion.
"It takes weight off your shoulders, for sure, so you go out there and pitch with confidence," Roark said. "You've got some run support behind you and you know we're going to go out and hit the ball around."
With an early lead, Roark was able to settle in and surrender just one hit during his first four innings. And by the time he lost his command and yielded a pair of runs in the fifth inning, Washington was in control.
Hairston improved to 7-for-13 against lefties this season with his RBI double off of Niese in the third, and he scored on a single by Tyler Moore one batter later to stretch the Nats' lead to 5-0.
"I like the lineup we have right now," said Ramos, who went 1-for-3 with an RBI and a run. "Scotty has hit the ball well against lefties, so we need that guy in the lineup when we face lefties, but we just need to concentrate more on the plate like today. We were waiting for our pitch."
When Williams decided to pull Roark before the sixth inning, he went with his own left-handed pitcher, Ross Detwiler, to face three lefties, whom the southpaw set down in order.
The Nationals followed with 2 2/3 smooth innings by relief pitchers Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano. But after Soriano got the first two batters of the misty ninth inning to fly out, a fan ran onto the field. Soriano walked the next two batters to bring Murphy to the plate as the potential game-tying run.
Murphy crushed an inside pitch to right field, and Werth started to track back toward the wall.
"I thought it had a chance," Murphy said. "In my heart of hearts, I knew it was going to be close. ... I knew it was going to be tight."
With his back against the wall, Werth hopped off the ground with his glove in the air to snag the ball just before it hit or slipped over the top of the wall.
Werth wasn't sure if the ball would have left the yard, and replay painted an inconclusive picture. Even if it wasn't going to clear the wall, it would've been an extra-base hit for Murphy to put the tying run in scoring position. Instead, the team with the second-most errors in the league was saved by its defense.
But Werth was nonchalant as he landed, while bullpen coach Matt LeCroy lifted his hands in celebration a few feet behind him.
Werth, in his typical sarcastic tone, said he wishes he had followed Soriano's example for the end of games. "I probably should've untucked my shirt."