Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon
news

MLB News

Nats rally in 7th to end uneven first half with win

Murphy breaks 1-1 tie with two-run single; Hellickson tosses six innings of one-run ball
MLB.com @JoeTrezz

NEW YORK -- Not long before the Nationals concluded their inconsistent first half by salvaging a split with the Mets at Citi Field, their manager reflected -- with an eye to the trainer's room -- on what he called the most "baffling" aspect of his first year on the job. Injuries have hamstrung the Nats, perhaps more than any other team in baseball, forcing them to endure long stretches without a slew of key contributors. Since opening the season with World Series aspirations, rarely have they played at full strength.

Such sentiment applies to few individuals more than Daniel Murphy, whose pinch-hit, two-run single sparked Sunday's 6-1 win and sent the Nats into the All-Star break on a high note. Washington will bank largely on a resurgence from its second baseman -- who missed 10 weeks due to knee surgery -- as well as recovering stars Ryan Zimmerman and Stephen Strasburg to inspire a similar, large-scale turnaround in the coming months.

View Full Game Coverage

NEW YORK -- Not long before the Nationals concluded their inconsistent first half by salvaging a split with the Mets at Citi Field, their manager reflected -- with an eye to the trainer's room -- on what he called the most "baffling" aspect of his first year on the job. Injuries have hamstrung the Nats, perhaps more than any other team in baseball, forcing them to endure long stretches without a slew of key contributors. Since opening the season with World Series aspirations, rarely have they played at full strength.

Such sentiment applies to few individuals more than Daniel Murphy, whose pinch-hit, two-run single sparked Sunday's 6-1 win and sent the Nats into the All-Star break on a high note. Washington will bank largely on a resurgence from its second baseman -- who missed 10 weeks due to knee surgery -- as well as recovering stars Ryan Zimmerman and Stephen Strasburg to inspire a similar, large-scale turnaround in the coming months.

View Full Game Coverage

"The good part is they should all be back," manager Dave Martinez said. "And we should be at full tilt. We come back, we start fresh."

Murphy plans to be active during the break, eschewing rest for weight training and baseball activities his mostly inactive offseason didn't allow for. Zimmerman will see live game action, testing his right oblique in three rehab games for the first time since straining it in May. He and Strasburg (right shoulder inflammation) could return as early as Friday, when the Nationals open the second half against Atlanta. They will do so back at .500 -- which they've hovered for much of the past two weeks -- 5 1/2 games back of the first-place Phillies.

"We need all the wins we can get right now," said Jeremy Hellickson, who tossed six strong innings in Sunday's win. "Philly and Atlanta aren't going anywhere. We need to step up and play the way we're capable of playing."

Video: WSH@NYM: Hellickson strikes out 6 across 6 innings

All of which puts Martinez in a familiar situation: he was the bench coach in Chicago last season when the Cubs, division favorites by a wide margin, limped into the break two games under .500 and 5 1/2 games behind the upstart Brewers. Chicago ended up winning the National League Central by six games.

"There are similarities," Martinez acknowledged.

For this year's Nats to follow suit, Martinez will need to steer them to more wins like Sunday, when their inconsistencies faded into the background, if only for a day.

A lineup that's relied disproportionally on the home run rewarded Hellickson with a small-ball rally in the seventh, when the Nats turned three hits, two walks and two hit batsmen into five runs. Murphy came off the bench to plate the go-ahead runs against Jerry Blevins; he's yet to start four consecutive games since returning last month.

Video: WSH@NYM: Murphy pulls a clutch 2-run single to right

"As a ballclub, we would've liked to have played better. But we're not out of it by any stretch of the imagination," Murphy said. "Hopefully at the end of the season, I'll be a productive contributor to a team that is postseason bound."

SOUND SMART
This is the first time the Nationals have entered the break at .500 or below since 2011.

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Both teams faced an adjustment period following a 47-minute rain delay that preceded the game's first pitch, after which soft infield conditions led to some sloppy play. Michael Conforto slipped rounding third base in the second, which precluded him from scoring after Devin Mesoraco singled off Hellickson. Trea Turner and Wilmer Difo both fell down trying to turn a double play later in the frame, when Jose Reyes bounced a routine grounder to short.

Video: WSH@NYM: Reyes scores Conforto on RBI forceout

NATS MAKE MOVES
The Nationals bolstered their bullpen depth early Sunday by recalling right-hander Trevor Gott, who owns a 4.96 ERA in 18 appearances, from Triple-A Syracuse. He filled the roster spot of Austin Voth, who was optioned following his MLB debut on Saturday. Gott's third stint with the big league club this season could be a short one -- he's likely to be optioned if Strasburg is healthy enough to be reinstated from the disabled list for Friday's second-half opener.

On the DL since early June with right-shoulder soreness, Strasburg made his second rehab start Sunday at Class A Advanced Potomac. The Nats hope he does not require another.

HE SAID IT
"For me, our first half was not disappointing. People can look at our record and say, 'The Nationals should be this or that.' ... But I'm proud of the boys. We faced some adversity over the first few months." -- Martinez

UP NEXT
The Nationals have not finalized their pitching alignment to open the second half, which they'll begin with a 7:05 p.m. ET matchup with the Braves on Friday at Nationals Park. In addition to getting more consistent production from superstar Bryce Harper, they are also hopeful Strasburg will be ready to rejoin the rotation soon enough to remain on turn following his rehab start Sunday. Washington could also give Strasburg an extra day of rest and start Max Scherzer, given his workload in Tuesday's All-Star Game presented by Mastercard is expected to be limited to one inning.

Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.

Washington Nationals