Nats help Harper, back Ross in rout
milwaukee — For much of this season, the Washington Nationals have relied heavily on Bryce Harper. His historic May run propelled the Nationals to a hot streak. And even as the team slumped the past two weeks, Harper has remained the most productive hitter in the Nationals’ lineup.
In Saturday’s 7-2 win over Milwaukee, the Nationals got muchneeded contributions from other players. Rookie starter Joe Ross fired eight strong innings in earning his first big league win, and Wilson Ramos and Yunel Escobar homered while Harper reached base in each plate appearance until he exited the game in the ninth after getting hit by a pitch.
The offensive explosion came in large part from the bats surrounding Harper in the lineup. When Harper singled in a run in the first inning against Brewers starter Jimmy Nelson, Anthony Rendon and Escobar both singled ahead of him. When Escobar smashed a line-drive two-run home run in the third, Rendon drew a walk ahead of him. When Ramos clobbered a two-run opposite field shot in the fifth inning, Harper drew his major league-leading 52nd walk just before him.
“The singles with guys in scoring position were huge,” Manager Matt Williams said. “You’re going to hit homers, but to put
those back to back-to-back hits together, especially leading off the first, is important for us to jump out to a lead and let Joe settle in a little bit.”
The team’s Nos. 3-5 hitters — Escobar, Harper and Ramos — went a combined 7 for 13 with six RBI. And when Harper drove in Denard Span from second base on a single in the sixth inning, it was only the second time in 22 games that the Nationals scored six runs or more.
“I know many will prefer to face me than him,” Ramos said of Harper. “He’s the most dangerous hitter we have in the lineup. I know they’re going to pitch him harder to get to me. That gives me more confidence to know I can get the job done, too.”
Harper’s last plate appearance, in the ninth, was the most painful and concerning. Brewers reliever Michael Blazek hit Harper on the left knee with a pitch that left Harper hobbling until he left the game with trainer Lee Kuntz. Harper was the third National to be hit in the game.
“It hurts,” Harper said. “Really bad. . . . Ninety-five [mph] to the knee don’t feel very good. We’ll see what happens tomorrow and see if it feels good.”
In only his second big league start, the 22-year-old Ross (1-1) was impressive again. He gave up only two runs, both in the second inning, on Jean Segura’s infield single and Scooter Gennett’s double. Ross gave up two long flyouts in the first three innings before settling into a groove.
Ross became the first Nationals starter in 11 games to go at least seven innings.
“He’s one of the guys we need in the rotation,” Ramos said. “He [is] 22 years old, but he looks like he got a lot of experience.”
Added Harper: “He ain’t scared.”
As the game progressed, Ross turned more efficient even as his velocity dropped. He needed only 10 pitches to complete the sixth inning, relying on his sinker to get groundballs. He fired 14 pitches in the seventh, fanning Shane Peterson with a wipeout slider and then striking out Carlos Gomez with a high fastball.
His defense also helped. On a groundball by Jonathan Lucroy, Escobar made a nice stop and jump-throw across the diamond where Danny Espinosa, making his first career start at first base, made a nice scoop.
“I don’t try to nitpick around the zone,” Ross said. “I like to go after hitters. It kinda eliminates walks. And when I get to a 3-2 count, I try to really focus in on making a good pitch for hopefully a strikeout or groundball.”
Ross, who jumped from Class AA Harrisburg to the big leagues a week ago, threw 108 pitches, 77 for strikes. He showed strong composure, striking out eight and walking the first batter of his career with two outs in the eighth. He faced a Nationals-record 51 batters before issuing a free pass.
“That helped with the pitch count, being able to go deep,” Ross said. “We were a little short, so it was huge for us to only use Casey [Janssen] in the ninth.”
After a mound visit from pitching coach Steve McCatty, Ross got Aramis Ramirez to ground out to end the inning. The only two other Nationals to have gone eight innings this season? Jordan Zimmermann and Max Scherzer. In the clubhouse after the game, Scherzer doused Ross with chocolate syrup.
“It’s not easy,” Williams said. “[Ross] doesn’t know these guys. We’ve got scouting reports for him, but he’s throwing it where he wants. Quality strikes down.”
Rookie Joe Ross gave up two runs and seven hits in eight innings, striking out eight and walking one to earn his first big league victory.