GAME IN A NUTSHELL: After an embarrassing loss Wednesday night, Matt Williams gathered his players together before Thursday's game with a simple message: Play the game their way, aggressively, and good things would be more likely to happen. They did display some of that in their series finale against the Diamondbacks, swiping some bases and putting pressure on the opposition. Ultimately, though, it was a power display and some dominant pitching that produced a much-needed win.
Ian Desmond and Clint Robinson each homered, with Wilson Ramos driving in two more, to pace a Nationals offensive attack that was spread throughout the lineup. That provided some support for Joe Ross, who again impressed with six innings of 1-run ball.
Up 4-1 in the seventh, Williams turned to the back end of his bullpen. Casey Janssen, who had been lights-out over the last month, did surrender a pair of runs, but Matt Thornton pitched out of a jam to protect a 1-run lead. Drew Storen then tossed a scoreless top of the eighth, and when Robinson launched a 3-run insurance homer in the bottom of the inning, Jonathan Papelbon was able to take a seat in the bullpen and watch as Blake Treinen finished off this victory.
HITTING HIGHLIGHT: Two of the Nationals' only healthy regulars all season have also been two of their least-productive hitters: Desmond and Ramos. Each, though, has shown some signs of life lately, and each came through big-time in this game. Desmond, given Wednesday night off to clear his head, homered in the second inning, came within a foot of doing it again in the fourth — he settled for a double off the wall — and then drew a walk in the fifth to cap a strong afternoon. Ramos, meanwhile, singled in the fourth and singled home two runs in the fifth, leaving himself 5 for his last 7. Obviously the health and production of the Nats' oft-injured regulars is key down the stretch, but so is improved production from these two guys.
PITCHING HIGHLIGHT: What more can be said at this point about Ross, who has been everything the Nationals could have hoped for and more. The calm, collected rookie was at it again Thursday, tossing six innings of 1-run ball, continuing the trend he has established in each of his seven big-league starts. Ross now sports a 2.80 ERA, 1.91 WHIP and incredible 47-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio as a major-league pitcher. The question moving forward: Will he remain in the big-league rotation? With Stephen Strasburg likely to come off the DL on Saturday, somebody has to go to clear a spot. Ross has done everything in his power to earn more starts, but the organization also is monitoring the 22-year-old's innings, and that can be hard to do at this level. We should have our answer soon.
KEY STAT: Drew Storen's streak of 19 consecutive batters retired (which ended with Jarrod Saltalamacchia's eighth-inning walk) was the longest by an MLB reliever this season and the longest in Nationals club history.
UP NEXT: The Rockies come to town for a weekend series that begins at 7:05 p.m. Friday when Jordan Zimmermann (8-7, 3.54) faces Colorado lefty Jorge De La Rosa (7-4, 4.87).