Nats help Harper, back Ross in rout

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY JAMES WAG­NER

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.”

MORRY GASH/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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.

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