WASHINGTON -- Searching for a way to ignite the Nationals' offense, manager Dave Martinez decided to shake up the team's lineup. Bryce Harper hit leadoff for the first time since 2013, Matt Adams batted third because of his success against right-handed pitching and Wilmer Difo was in the nine-hole to
WASHINGTON -- Searching for a way to ignite the Nationals' offense, manager Dave Martinez decided to shake up the team's lineup. Bryce Harper hit leadoff for the first time since 2013, Matt Adams batted third because of his success against right-handed pitching and Wilmer Difo was in the nine-hole to serve as a second leadoff hitter.
Those changes all paid off during a breakout performance from the Nationals' bats en route to a 12-4 victory over the Pirates on Tuesday night at Nationals Park. Harper broke out of his slump with a three-run home run in the fifth, Adams notched his first multi-homer game with Washington and Difo collected a solo homer to help Max Scherzer earn his league-leading sixth win of the season.
It's the third consecutive victory for the Nationals and the first time they have rattled off three straight wins since they began the season 4-0.
"I think it all starts in that manager's office every night," Harper said. "[Martinez] believes in our team. He believes in us as a group, and we believe in him as well. He's one of the best managers I've ever been around."
Scherzer struck out eight on the night in 6 1/3 innings of two-run ball to increase his strikeout total to a Major League-leading 65 on the season. The right-hander even got in on the Nats' offensive barrage with a run-scoring single of his own in the sixth inning, which set up a three-run double from Trea Turner to unload the bases and give Washington the kind of breakout offensive night they craved.
"I feel like that's what I really hang my hat on. ... I put up the zeros when I needed to," Scherzer said. "I was able to pitch with all four pitches. You go out there and you put up zeros and when you give your offense a chance, good things happen."
The Nationals' bullpen was overworked recently, as their struggling offense had failed to turn opportunities into actual runs. After Monday's game, Martinez began his postgame news conference lamenting the fact that the Nationals have not been able to tack on runs even if they had an early lead. It made each game close, reducing their margin for error and taxing the bullpen.
One day later, the Nationals saw the results of Martinez's pep talk.
Difo got the scoring started with his first homer of the year in the third. Adams, playing out of position in left field but emerging as the starter thanks to the Nats' plethora of injuries and his hot bat, swatted a pair of homers. And then there was Harper, who mashed his ninth home run of the year and first since April 16. After the home run, he gave his manager a huge hug in the dugout.
The Nationals continued to tack on in the sixth inning with a bombardment of run-scoring hits from Scherzer and Turner. Adams collected his third RBI of the day with a run-scoring single and Ryan Zimmerman added an RBI single as well.
"That was fun," Martinez said. "I just liked the at-bats. They grinded some at-bats out. They put the ball in play when they needed to. It's just an all-around good day."
In his last five games, Adams has gone 9-for-17 at the plate with three home runs, a double and nine RBIs.
"He's a guy who deserves to be in the lineup," Harper said. "He has great at-bats for us. He does things in that batter's box that not many guys can do. That showed tonight. He has great at-bats. He squared some pitches up tonight. Two homers, three RBIs -- what can you say? He's been great for us all year long, and he just keeps getting better."
HE SAID IT
"We'll let it ride for a couple days, see what happens." -- Martinez, on whether Harper will lead off again Wednesday
The Nationals continue a four-game series with the Pirates on Wednesday night at Nationals Park when right-hander Stephen Strasburg matches up against Pittsburgh's Ivan Nova. Strasburg has been plagued by the homer a bit this season, yielding seven home runs in six starts after posting the lowest home runs per nine innings mark in the Majors in 2017. First pitch is at 7:05 p.m. ET.
Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.