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Important win for Nats to start tough trip

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Important win for Nats to start tough trip

It's just one game at the start of a very tough road trip, and it came against a Dodgers club exhausted after playing Sunday night in Pittsburgh that decided to sit several key regulars.

That doesn't make Monday night's 8-3 victory in Los Angeles any less important for the Nationals.

Truth be told, they had to win this game. The Mets had already come from behind to beat the Rockies, so a victory was required to keep pace in the NL East. The Dodgers, as previously stated, were fielding something less than their "A" lineup, with an ineffective Brett Anderson on the mound. And Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw await for the final two games of this series.

So if ever the Nationals needed a win, this was it. They did so in impressive fashion, both at the plate (where Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth and Ian Desmond combined for six hits, three doubles and two homers) and on the mound (where Gio Gonzalez completed eight scoreless innings).

No, this one game didn't cure everything that ails the Nats. But it was an important performance in something that resembled a must-win situation, and it set a distinct positive tone on the first night of a long road trip.

Some thoughts on what went down at Chavez Ravine late last night while many of you were already asleep...

This lineup is showing actual signs of life
The 8-run outburst, with five of those runs coming in the top of the sixth, was enjoyable to watch and featured big hits from several guys who had been slumping. But this performance wasn't completely out of the blue, either.

This actually has been going on for more than a week now. Over their last eight games, the Nationals have scored an average of 5.4 runs while hitting .272 with a .361 on-base percentage and .440 slugging percentage.

And the production isn't coming from one source; it has been spread throughout the lineup. Consider that the Nats have scored 43 runs in their last eight games, and not one came via a Bryce Harper homer. The frontrunner for NL MVP has only one extra-base hit and one RBI during this span.

That's a good sign. Too often the Nationals have relied on Harper to carry the load this season. Over the last week, they've proven they score runs in bunches even when the young star has little tangible impact.

Ian Desmond is warming up

I know, I know. We've proclaimed this several times before, and in every case, Desmond has fallen back into a slump. But this time is different! No, really. It is.

Because after launching a pair of home runs Monday night, Desmond is now hitting .315 with seven homers, 16 RBI, a .383 on-base percentage and 1.040 OPS over his last 20 games. That's not an insignificant sample, and it even includes a slump in the middle portion of this streak.

Of course he needs to prove he can keep this up, or something bearing slight resemblance to this. But Desmond is delivering right now for the Nationals, and not a moment too soon for this team and for its shortstop.

Ryan Zimmerman is already red-hot
Remember how we wondered how long it would take for the Nationals' returning regulars to get their swings in place after missing considerable time due to injury? Well, for Zimmerman, it didn't take much time at all.

He looks as locked-in at the plate as he's been all season. Really, he's as locked-in as he's been since last summer, when that nasty hamstring pull essentially ended his season in late July.

Since coming off the DL on July 28, a span of 14 games, Zimmerman is now hitting .333 with four homers, 11 RBI, a .400 on-base percentage and 1.129 OPS. Seven of his last nine hits have been for extra bases.

The emergence of Zimmerman as an offensive force again means the world to the Nats, because finally somebody is providing some legitimate protection for Harper in the lineup.

Gio Gonzalez is pitching as well as we've seen him in a long time
Monday night's 8-inning start was probably Gonzalez's best of the season. He didn't give up a run. He only walked one batter. He threw 76-of-117 pitches for strikes. And he completed eight innings for the first time this season.

This, though, was merely a continuation of what Gonzalez has been doing for awhile now. Over his last eight starts, the lefty is now 5-0 with a 1.48 ERA. He has allowed two or fewer earned runs in each of those eight starts.

There's probably no coincidence in the fact Jose Lobaton has been behind the plate for every one of those starts. Lobaton has become Gonzalez's personal catcher, and you can't dispute the results. The eight times Wilson Ramos has caught him this year, Gonzalez owns a 5.12 ERA. The 13 times Lobaton has caught him, Gonzalez's ERA is 2.55.

Hey, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

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The Nationals have had their eyes on Kelvin Herrera for years

The Nationals have had their eyes on Kelvin Herrera for years

On Monday, in the middle of their game with the Yankees, Mike Rizzo did a very Mike Rizzo thing and added another strong arm to the Nationals' bullpen well before the trade deadline.

In a trade with the Kansas City Royals, the Nats dealt prospects Kelvin Gutierrez, Blake Perkins and Yohanse Morel for relief pitcher Kelvin Herrera.

Herrera, who's in his eighth season, has walked only two batters in the last 27 games and is set to become a free agent at the end of the season. 

"We just thought that it was a good idea to strike early," Rizzo said Wednesday on 106.7 The Fan's Sports Junkies, simulcasted on NBC Sports Washington.

"We thought the closer to the deadline we get, the more competition we'll have for Kelvin [Herrera]. We were able to strike a deal with Dayton Moore quickly and [we] couldn't be happier about it."

But Mike Rizzo didn't just come across Herrera by chance, he's had his sights on him for years.

"He was one of the guys that we kind of kicked the tires on [last year] and obviously the price for Kelvin at that time with a year and a half of control was a lot different than it was with four and a half months of control."

"We did have our eyes on him for years. He's been a great reliever for years. He's one of the guys we talked about when we talked about improving our bullpen." 

Herrera has spent all of his eight seasons in the big leagues with the Royals, even winning a World Series. Trades can bring both joy and angst, but Rizzo knows Herrera is excited to get back to playing meaningful baseball.

"This guy is such a competitor; World Series tested and playoff tested. He's happy to be playing meaningful games. He talked about what it takes to win a World Series, and you know, our guys were all ears. I think he's really thankful for getting the opportunity to get after it again and get another ring."

"At the same time, you know, it's hard for those old relationship to die and to move on, but he was very excited about being with us. I spoke to him after we made the trade and he [was] a little shocked, but really fired up about it. And when he got to the clubhouse, [he] met some of his old teammates - Timmy Collins and Ryan Madson -  and was welcome with open arms by not only the bullpen guys but everyone on the team." 

Herrera will join Sean Doolittle, Brandon Kintzler, and Ryan Madson to make about as deep of a bullpen as any in baseball right now.

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Trea Turner goes 4 for 4 to help Nationals beat Orioles

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Trea Turner goes 4 for 4 to help Nationals beat Orioles

WASHINGTON -- Presented with identical opportunities to ring up a big inning, the Washington Nationals took full advantage and Baltimore Orioles squandered the chance.

That goes a long way toward explaining why the Nationals are a contender and the Orioles own the worst record in the big leagues.

Trea Turner went 4 for 4 with a homer , Anthony Rendon drove in three runs and Washington extended its recent domination of the Orioles with a 9-7 victory Tuesday night.

The game was essentially decided in the fifth inning, which began with Baltimore leading 4-1.

In the top half, the Orioles loaded the bases with no outs and scored only one run -- when Manny Machado hit into a 4-6-3 double play.

Washington loaded the bases with no outs in the bottom half and batted around, scoring four runs on four hits and a pair of walks. Adam Eaton contributed a two-run single, Rendon hit a sacrifice fly and Bryce Harper chased starter David Hess with an RBI double.

"They did a lot better job cashing in their bases loaded, nobody out situation than we did," Orioles manager Buck Showalter conceded.

For the game, Baltimore was 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position. The Nationals were 5 for 10.

"This team is starting to become relentless," manager Dave Martinez said. "They kept pounding and pounding and pounding, had a couple of big innings there and scored some runs."

The Nationals trailed 6-5 before getting six hits in a four-run seventh. Rendon delivered a two-run double off Tanner Scott (0-1) that made it 7-6, and Turner capped his four-hit night with a double.

Both teams noted that more than a couple of Washington's hits were bloopers and seeing-eye grounders, but the Nationals certainly weren't about to apologize.

"I feel like all year we've been hitting balls right at people," Turner said, "so it's nice to get a bunch of those in one game and come out with a win."

Washington has won six straight over its neighboring interleague rival, including four games this season by a combined 20-8.

Pitching in his second big league game, Nationals starter Jefry Rodriguez gave up five runs, four hits and four walks in five innings.

Justin Miller (5-0) pitched two innings of relief, newcomer Kelvin Herrera worked a perfect eighth and Sean Doolittle gave up a solo home run to Joey Rickard while earning his 19th save.

Jace Peterson and Trey Mancini each hit two-run homers for the Orioles, who have lost 16 of 19.

This one can be blamed on an all-too-telling fifth inning.

"It's just one of those things where if they got hits they seemed to have found holes," Showalter said. "They hit some balls hard, too."

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