Nationals: back in first place
After a disappointing home stand, during which they failed to win any of the three series, the Washington Nationals have bounced back. They beat the Phillies in the first two game of the series in Philadelphia, thanks in large measure to home runs by Ian Desmond. He is really coming around this year, benefitting from being moved from first or second to fifth in the lineup. Another positive change: Manager Davey Johnson announced that Henry Rodriguez will no longer be the usual closing pitcher. H-Rod almost blew another save in the ninth inning on Monday, and had to be replaced. The Phillies averted a sweep on Wednesday, during which H-Rod managed to give up a home run to Shane Victorino in the eighth inning. It was a non-save situation and probably didn't matter. In fact, the Nats would have been shut out in that game had Adam LaRoche not homered in the top of the ninth. But thanks to consecutive losses by the Braves, that series was good enough for the Nats to regain first place in the NL East. A nice way to enjoy their day off on Thursday.
Tonight's game in Atlanta -- the big showdown between division rivals -- got off to a great start as Ian Desmond doubled in two runs, and Rick Ankiel tripled in two more. Four runs in the first inning, off the Braves' best pitcher, Tim Hudson! But the Nats' starter Ross Detwiler kept getting into jams, and was taken out in the fifth inning after his pitch count had exceeded 100. Chien-Ming Wang came in as a reliever, in his first big league appearance this year. He pitched three solid innings, giving up a home run. But the crucial play of the night was when Ryan Zimmerman hit a clutch double into the left field gap with two outs and the bases loaded in the seventh inning. That raised the margin to 7-3, pretty much assuring a Nationals win. Final score: Nats 7, Braves 4. Tyler Clippard got the save. See MLB.com.
Sweeps week in Ohio
The two teams from Ohio accomplished some impressive sweeps this past week. In fact, both of them have surged into first place in their respective divisions. The Cincinnati Reds beat the Atlanta Braves in four straight home games, the first time they have done that since April 13-16, 1990. Wow! A grand slam by Devin Mesoraco (!?) proved decisive in Thursday's 6-3 victory. See MLB.com. Nationals fans appreciate Cincy's role in knocking the Braves off the division-leader pedestal. Meanwhile, the Cleveland Indians swept the Detroit Tigers in three games, and The Tribe's manager Manny Acta (formerly of the Washington Nationals) must be feeling pretty good about himself; he's a good guy. Both the Reds and the Indians lost tonight, however. Maybe we'll see an all-Ohio World Series for the first time ever this October!
Feelin' stronger every day
The successful return of Chien-Ming Wang from the disabled list this evening was not the only piece of good news for the Nationals, health-wise. Last year's slugging leader, Michael Morse, has mostly recovered from his back muscle pull and has begun playing "extended spring games" in Viera, Florida. Today he hit a home run. He plans to begin regular minor league play with the Potomac Nationals and hopes to rejoin the real Nats in about two weeks. Once he rejoins the Nats' lineup, things will definitely be looking up for the "D.C. 9."
Sprucing up Camden Yards
Belated but important news: On the 20th anniversary of their wonderful brick ballpark, the Baltimore Orioles have been renovating Camden Yards. The wall in right field has been lowered slightly, and there is a new elevated viewing area (with a bar) above the center field batter's eye. Also, there will be enhancements to the main concourse, and sculptures of the six Orioles in the National Baseball Hall of Famers will be unveiled during the season: Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, Earl Weaver, Jim Palmer, Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken Jr. See MLB.com; hat tip to Mike Zurawski. (He brought that to my attention back in January; Obviously, I'm still way behind in my e-mail in-box.)