Struggling Nationals beat Brewers 7-2
MILWAUKEE (AP) Bryce Harper says taking a 95 mph fastball off his left knee was no fun. Everything else about the Washington Nationals' performance Saturday gave him a reason to smile.
Yunel Escobar and Wilson Ramos hit two-run homers and Harper continued his offensive surge by driving in two runs as the Nationals beat the Milwaukee Brewers 7-2.
''We're a great team. I think everybody knows that. I've been preaching all year in the media, in the clubhouse, that we've got one of the best lineups in baseball,'' said Harper, who was pulled as a precaution after being hit in the ninth inning by Michael Blazek's errant fastball. ''When we do the things we need to do, we're going to score a lot of runs.''
Add in the effort of rookie Joe Ross (1-1) and the Nationals look just like the NL East favorites, not a scuffling team that came in losers of 11 of 14 and in danger of falling to .500 for the first time since May 8.
The 22-year-old Ross scatted seven hits in eight solid innings, and got a celebratory shower of chocolate sauce for his efforts.
''Towards the end I definitely had more adrenaline pumping so it wasn't like I felt as tired as I probably am now,'' Ross said. ''I felt good, I'll probably be a little sore tomorrow but I feel good.''
It was just the type of performance the struggling Nationals needed from its 3-4-5 hitters, who went 7 of 13 with six RBIs and chased starter Jimmy Nelson (3-7) in the sixth.
Escobar's homer put Washington ahead for good 3-2 in the third and Ramos' shot extended the lead to 5-2 in the fifth. Harper finished 3 for 3 with a walk to raise his average to .343 and garnered his 50th and 51st RBIs with singles in the first and sixth.
''He's just taking what they're giving them. It's flat, it's level, it's controlled baseball for him,'' Nationals manager Matt Williams said. ''It's important for him. If he does that then you see what can happen.''
Harper said he would decide if he would play Sunday based on how he felt when he gets to the ballpark.
It was the first time the Nationals had ever faced Nelson. It didn't take long for them to figure him out.
Harper opened the scoring with a sharp RBI single to left in the first, then set the stage in the fifth with two outs by battling back from an 0-2 count. He took two close pitches to earn a walk as Nelson grimaced at home plate umpire Tim Timmons' calls.
''I mean, whether I thought they were (strikes) or not doesn't really matter,'' Nelson said. ''I still have to execute my pitches after that, and I didn't.''
That set up Ramos, whose home run just beyond the fence in right field landed with a loud thud off the picnic area awning.
''When we get opportunities to bring runners in and we do it, we have an opportunity to win a lot of games,'' Ramos said. ''I felt more relaxed at the plate. I got a good pitch to hit, and I did.''
ESPINOSA ALL OVER
Danny Espinosa made his first career start at first base for the Nationals.
Espinosa has played third base, left field and now first base this season for the first time in his six-year career after previously only playing middle infield positions.
With Ryan Zimmerman (plantar fasciitis) on the DL, Espinosa looked like a natural making all the necessary plays in the field.
Nationals: RHP Doug Fister (forearm tightness) threw six scoreless innings in a rehab start with Double-A Harrisburg on Friday night. He's expected to throw a bullpen session before rejoining the Nationals next week. . Williams says a bullpen session is also RHP Stephen Strasburg's next step after throwing a simulated game Friday. Strasburg (neck) was placed on the 15-day DL on May 30.
Brewers: CF Carlos Gomez (right hip) was back in the lineup after missing three games. He went 0 for 4. . Brewers LF Gerardo Parra came up hobbled in the second inning after fouling a ball off his right shin just above his protective guard, but stayed in the game.
Nationals: Max Scherzer (6-5, 2.13 ERA) takes the mound in the series finale. The right-hander has gone at least six innings in every start this year, but has faltered in his last two outings - giving up a combined eight runs in two losses. The slump followed a dominant five-game winning streak where he gave up just seven runs over 36 innings.
Brewers: Milwaukee counters with rookie Taylor Jungmann who will look to build on a strong outing in a win in Tuesday in Pittsburgh. The 2011 first-round draft pick's breakout performance was a surprise following a slow start to the season in Triple-A Colorado Springs. ''You feel good giving him the ball. That's the big thing,'' Brewers manager Craig Counsell said.
This story has been corrected to show that Bryce Harper took a fastball off his left knee instead of his right knee.