Lobaton's three-run homer leads Nationals to tie up NLDS

Lobaton's three-run homer leads Nationals to tie up NLDS


WASHINGTON -- Jose Lobaton got the chance to play in the postseason because of a teammate's late-September injury and, boy, did the little-used backup catcher make the most of it.

Lobaton hit a three-run homer, Daniel Murphy provided more-expected production by driving in a pair of insurance runs, and Washington's bullpen threw 4 2/3 scoreless innings Sunday, leading the Nationals past the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-2 in a rain-postponed Game 2 to even their NL Division Series at 1-all.

The Nationals trailed 2-0 in the fourth when No. 8 hitter Lobaton put them ahead for good by connecting off a curveball from Rich Hill after the Dodgers left-hander walked Murphy and hit a batter.

Hard to see this coming: Lobaton did not do much at the plate in 2016, batting .232 in only 99 at-bats overall, including 1 for 15 against lefties. Then again, that lone hit was also a homer, and also against the Dodgers - off Scott Kazmir in July.

Lobaton didn't even start the playoff opener, in fact. He sat behind rookie Pedro Severino, who had played all of 18 games in the majors.

Murphy, in contrast, has been Washington's best hitter all season, considered a top contender for league MVP honors. Indeed, fans chanted those three letters after each hit as he went 3 for 3, including RBI singles in the fifth and seventh.

The Dodgers had gone ahead on Corey Seager's second first-inning homer of the series and Josh Reddick's run-scoring single in the third on a play at home in which Lobaton couldn't hold onto Bryce Harper's throw home from right. Both runs came against Tanner Roark, who lasted 4 1/3 innings.

Five Nationals relievers did the rest, with Mark Melancon working around a single in the ninth - the lone hit allowed by the hosts' bullpen - to earn the save. Blake Treinen went 1 1/3 innings and got the win.

All in all, NL East champion Washington used the same formula that NL West winner LA did in Game 1 and, truly, all year: hit the ball over the fence and rely on shutdown relief.

And after the Nationals wasted plenty of opportunities to score in a 4-3 loss on Friday, it was the Dodgers' turn to come up short in the clutch: Los Angeles left the bases loaded three times.

The best-of-five series shifts to Los Angeles for Game 3 on Monday afternoon, with Game 4 there on Tuesday, creating an unusual three-consecutive-days setup in the playoffs, thanks to the loss of a travel day.

Game 2 originally was supposed to be played Saturday, when heavy showers in the morning and early afternoon - and a forecast that promised more - prompted Major League Baseball to push it into Sunday's planned off day. The rain had disappeared by an hour past the original first-pitch time, though, and 20-20 hindsight said that the game could have been played.

This one was played under a blue sky but in wind that topped 30 mph and the temperature in the 60s that prompted some players to wear wool caps during pregame warmups.

The Nationals went ahead 3-2 in the fourth, finally getting to Hill - who went 4 1/3 innings - in the unlikeliest of ways. After a walk and two quick outs, he plunked Danny Espinosa for the second time; Washington's shortstop has struck out in his other five NLDS plate appearances.

That mistake proved costly when the next batter, Lobaton, put the ball into the visitors' bullpen beyond left field, leading to chants of "N-A-T-S! Nats, Nats, Nats, Woooo!" from a sellout crowd of 43,826.


Nationals: With RHP Joe Ross coming off a recent trip to the disabled list with an inflamed right shoulder, manager Dusty Baker still did not want to commit to his Game 4 and Game 5 starting pitchers. One possibility would be that Ross could pitch in Game 4, with Game 1 loser Scherzer starting Game 5.


In Game 3, the Dodgers will have RHP Kenta Maeda (16-11, 3.48 ERA) on the mound against Nationals LHP Gio Gonzalez (11-11, 4.57). Both pitchers were scheduled to fly to Los Angeles ahead of the rest of the teams' players, so they could be in place, instead of waiting for Sunday's game to end. The Nationals are hoping Gonzalez can take advantage of the Dodgers' worst-in-the-majors batting average against left-handed pitchers. Maeda led LA pitchers in wins, innings (175 2/3), strikeouts (179) and starts (32).

Starting to rev things up, Hunter Pence has big night at plate and in left

Starting to rev things up, Hunter Pence has big night at plate and in left

PEORIA — Jeff Samardzija spent a couple minutes after Thursday’s start talking to reporters about how deep he thinks the Giants lineup can be. It’ll be a hell of a lot deeper if Hunter Pence keeps hitting like this. 

After a slow start to the spring, Pence is charging. He had three hits against the Padres: a triple that bounced off the top of the wall in right-center, a hard single up the middle, and a double to center. The more encouraging plays for the Giants happened in left field. Pence chased down a drive to the line in the third inning, leaving the bases loaded. He opened the fourth by going the other direction and gloving a fly ball to left-center. 

"A good game for Hunter, both ways," manager Bruce Bochy said. "He's getting more comfortable out there. You can see it with the jumps he's getting right now. It takes a little while when you change positions, but I think he's going to be fine out there."

The Giants appear set to have Austin Jackson and Pence atop the lineup against left-handed starters, and that duo could see plenty of time early. Seven of the first nine games are against the Dodgers, who have four lefty starters. 

--- Evan Longoria had a double off the right-center wall on Wednesday after missing a week with a sore ankle. He had a single the same way in his second at-bat Thursday. More than the at-bats, Longoria has impressed with his soft hands and steady arm at third. The ankle looks fine, too. 

“My ankle feels pretty good,” Longoria said. “I don’t think it’s going to be an issue going forward.”

--- It’s been a quiet spring for Andrew McCutchen, but we saw the wheels tonight. McCutchen easily stole second after a two-run single in the fifth. When Evan Longoria bounced one to the left side, shortstop Freddy Galvis tried to go to third for the lead out, but McCutchen beat that throw, too. He got up and put his hands on his hips, as if to say, "Why'd you even try that?"

--- Samardzija allowed three homers in a six-batter span in the third. He allowed three homers in an inning in his previous start, too, but he said he’s not concerned. Samardzija deemed it a sequencing issue. He’s working in a new changeup and threw it in situations he normally wouldn’t; Eric Hosmer took advantage of a floating one, crushing it to deep, deep right for the third homer. 

--- With a runner on, Brandon Belt put down a perfect bunt to foil the shift. Belt does that every spring, particularly against NL West teams, but rarely during the regular season. Maybe this will be the year?

Belt later crushed a homer to deep right. That had to feel good for a number of reasons. Belt is fighting a cold and he learned earlier in the day that his college coach, Augie Garrido, had passed away.

Josh Osich goes back to his roots looking to unleash all the potential


Josh Osich goes back to his roots looking to unleash all the potential

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — For most pitchers, spring training is a time to experiment and add a pitch or two. Josh Osich is using this month to go the other direction. 

Osich spent the offseason watching film of his 2015 season, when he looked like he might one day be the closer in San Francisco, and decided that he needed to get back to his roots. That means the curveball, which he tried so hard to mix in last year, is now far back in the cupboard. The four-seam and two-seam fastballs are once again the focus, with an emphasis on changing eye levels more than he did a year ago. The changeup and cutter will round out his arsenal for the most part. 

Osich’s raw stuff is still as good as just about any lefty reliever in the league, and he hopes to take advantage of that while putting a rough 2017 season in his rearview mirror. He had a 6.23 ERA last season and 1.73 WHIP.

“It’s just one of those learning years,” Osich said. “I tried to live at the bottom of the zone and I was, but I was actually below the zone. So then I would fall behind and need to throw a strike and that’s when guys would hit me.”

Osich, 29, had a 2.20 ERA and 1.12 WHIP during that 2015 season that he keeps going back to. He walked eight batters in 28 2/3 innings, a far cry from the 27 he walked in 43 1/3 last year. While watching the 2015 version of himself, Osich saw that his hands were higher, and that’s something he’s working to replicate. He’s also trying to slow his pace to the plate. So far, the results are nothing but encouraging. Osich allowed one hit and struck out one in a 2 1/3 inning appearance on Wednesday night. Manager Bruce Bochy let him extend himself to keep the good vibes going. 

In six appearances this spring, Osich has allowed just four hits over seven scoreless innings. He has seven strikeouts and one walk. 

“O, it just seems like he’s got confidence,” Bochy said. “He’s kept it simple, he’s not tinkering with different pitches. He’s throwing more strikes, and more than anything he’s just trying to pound the strike zone now with quality strikes. That’s all he has to do. You look at him and he’s hitting 95 with a couple of good off-speed pitches. That works here.”