Held scoreless through the first five innings on Friday night, the Nationals exploded for three home runs spread across the sixth, seventh and eighth to beat the Marlins in their series opener. One came from Bryce Harper, who hits a lot of them. The other two emerged from what is starting to become an expected source.
That would be the Nationals' bench, which produced a two-run bomb by Stephen Drew and a solo shot by Chris Heisey that served as an insurance run.
Drew smacked his second of the season in the sixth off Bryan Morris. Heisey hit his fourth (out of eight total hits this year) in the eighth off Dustin McGowan.
Manager Dusty Baker pushed a lot of buttons in the 5-3 victory and those two calls certainly worked in his favor.
"The thing about it is these are the guys that you want coming off the bench," Baker said. "I try to match them up with guys that i think that I they're most likely to have some success against. We're fortunate enough that it worked today."
Pinch-hitters, in fact, have been coming up big consistently for the Nats this season, at least in hitting homers. Friday night was the first time in Nationals history they've had two pinch-hit homers in the same game. They now have six as a team for the season, which ranks second in baseball.
Baker keeps coming up flush with his gambles, but that's not say he deserves all the credit, of course.
“Dusty’s been making some good calls. But at the end of the day, Dusty don’t hit the home runs," closer Jonathan Papelbon said. "Those guys put in a lot of work. They deserve a lot of credit for that. I've always said that long men in the bullpen and guys hitting off the bench, those are the hardest jobs in baseball. So tip my hat to those guys.”
On a night both Drew and Heisey homered, Papelbon wasn't the only teammate that sent praise their way.
"Dirt deserves it and so does Heis. These guys, day in and day out they grab a bat. Even Clint [Robinson]," Gio Gonzalez said. "They all want the bat. They all want to go up there and swing the bat."
'Dirt,' by the way, is Drew's nickname. And the trio - including Robinson - are known as the 'Three Amigos,' if you ask Gonzalez. If they keep this up, perhaps it will stick.
"Having faith in the guys and being able to just throw them anybody out there, they think they're going to do damage every single time they go up there," Bryce Harper said. "We have a very confident team and a very confident bench. That's huge for a team that wants to win a lot."
Heisey and Robinson know the deal when it comes to playing off the bench. For Drew, though, this is still all very new. As recently as last season he was an everyday player. He has leaned heavily on guys like Heisey and Robinson for advice while tinkering his own approach to adapt.
"As of late, I’ve gotten better at it," Drew said. "I try not to take too many swings in the cage, just be ready throughout the game. But also you want to be able to have that good feel when you go up to bat, like you’ve already had three or four at-bats in your mind. So, more mentally staying focused that way and being ready to go up there. It’s a good feeling tonight, just to be able to contribute and tie up the game right there."
It's early in the season, but Baker certainly has some weapons at his disposal to bring off the bench. He likes how his group of reserves is shaping up.
"It's especially nice when they hit home runs," Baker said.