3 keys to win over O's: Zim, Harrison, Soto

May 23rd, 2021

WASHINGTON -- If the Nationals were going to overcome a five-run first-inning deficit, they were going to need an offensive outburst. By the sixth inning, every position player had recorded at least one hit.

After a frustrating stretch of leaving runners on base and squandering scoring opportunities, the Nats made that early hole a distant memory in their 12-9 win over the Orioles on Saturday.

Take a look at three key elements to their second victory in the Battle of the Beltways.

Longtime record broken: Ryan Zimmerman
With the heavy-hitting game locked in a 6-6 tie in the fourth inning, Zimmerman gave the Nationals the lead with a massive 436-foot, three-run homer off Adam Plutko. Two innings later, Kyle Schwarber drove in Zimmerman for his 948th career run. With that, Zimmerman passed Hall of Famer Tim Raines and became the all-time franchise leader (Expos and Nationals) in runs scored.

“That’s why we call him, ‘The Captain,’” manager Dave Martinez said. “Congratulations to him. I put him out there, he gets a chance to play, he gets the job done and he’s having a lot of fun, he really is.”

The crowd of 15,440 rose to their feet when the milestone was announced on the Jumbotron, and Zimmerman came out of the dugout to acknowledge the roaring audience.

“You get those moments because you’re old. You’ve got to play for a long time,” Zimmerman, 36, said with a laugh. “I’m just lucky enough to be able to do it in one place. Not many guys get the opportunity like I’ve had. I think everyone knows how I feel about this D.C. area and the fanbase and how special it is to me.”

Zimmerman, the Nationals’ first-ever Draft pick, is also the franchise leader in hits, doubles, home runs, RBIs, plate appearances, extra-base hits and total bases.

New career milestone: Josh Harrison
When Dave Martinez decided to give utility man Harrison his first career start in center field in place of an injured Victor Robles, Martinez said, “He’s a guy that I know I can put him anywhere because he works at it. I’m very comfortable with him out there.”

Harrison proved he can get it done on both sides of the field. The 11-year veteran rocked his first career grand slam a Statcast-estimated 390 feet out of Nats Park at 102.2 mph off Bruce Zimmermann in the third inning. The shot helped close the Nationals’ early five-run deficit after Jon Lester also allowed a grand slam to Ryan Mountcastle in the first.

“It was fun,” Harrison said. “You never know when it’s going to come. Given the situation of the game with us being down … it was a big momentum shift.”

Harrison said hitting a grand slam wasn’t something that steadily has been on his mind over his career, but he did think about milestones recently when teammate Yan Gomes was a home run away from the cycle.

“Not that I was like, ‘Oh, I’m trying to hit a grand slam,’ but it’s something that as a player, you know if you’ve hit one,” Harrison said. “It’s taken me a while, but the first one was a good one. Right time.”

Encouraging trend: Juan Soto
Soto went 2-for-4, extending his stretch of multihit outings to four of his last five games. This consistency is key for the slugging right fielder after he looked to establish rhythm following a stint on the injured list. Soto is hitting .429 (9-for-21) with two doubles, one home run, a pair of RBIs, three walks and four runs over this period.

“He’s starting to get the ball up in the air, which is key, and hitting line drives everywhere,” Martinez said. “When he does that, he works good at-bats. He’s being a little bit more aggressive. … I like where he’s at right now. It’s just a matter of time before he starts driving the ball out of the ballpark like we’re accustomed to seeing.”