Nats top L.A., take third straight series
Starter Ortiz delivers strong outing as bats dominate Dodgers
WASHINGTON -- Entering their just-completed homestand, the Nationals were 3-10 at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium this season. Add in the fact that they were 11-27 during the second half of last season at RFK, and one might have expected that the Nationals' problems at home would continue.
But the Nationals took care of business over these 10 games at RFK, going 7-3 after ending the homestand with a 10-4 victory over the Dodgers on Sunday afternoon in front of 30,348 fans. It was the Nationals' first winning homestand since going 5-1 from June 24-30, 2005, when they played took two of three from the Blue Jays and swept the Pirates.
"You have to play well at home if you think about having any kind of a season, and we were not doing that," manager Frank Robinson said. "It's good to start putting it together -- starting at home, which is a good start."
The Nationals' offense came back to life Sunday after scoring just one run on eight hits on Saturday, taking a 6-0 lead by the third inning against Dodgers right-hander Jae Seo.
The Nationals made it 1-0 in the first, and easily could have scored more runs in that frame. With runners on first and second and no one out, both Royce Clayton and Ryan Zimmerman missed the sacrifice sign, with Clayton getting tagged out trying to steal third. According to Zimmerman, Clayton thought the hit-and run play was called, and Zimmerman swung at the pitch when he was supposed to bunt.
"We shot ourselves in the foot today. We ran ourselves out of the inning. Missed signs. It was just, 'See you later,' " Robinson said. "But it was good that we came back in the third inning."
Zimmerman made up for his mistake by hitting a three-run home run over the left-center-field wall to give the Nationals a 4-0 lead.
"The home run was a changeup," Zimmerman said. "Seo was throwing a bunch of offspeed stuff all game, and we did a good job staying with our game plan."
After Marlon Anderson tripled, Brian Schneider hit a sacrifice fly to right field to score Anderson.
Marlon Byrd then doubled, went to third on a wild pitch and scored the fifth run of the inning on Mike Vento's single to left. It was Vento's first career hit and RBI. After eight-plus seasons in the Minor Leagues, most spent the Yankees organization, Vento expressed his happiness about finally getting his first big-league start, in which he ended up going 2-for-3.
"It was exciting. I'm just glad I got the opportunity," Vento said. "There are a bunch of good guys in this clubhouse. When they welcome you like they welcomed me, it makes you feel accepted. You can relax and go out and play the way you are capable of playing."
With Odalis Perez on the mound in the fourth inning, Alfonso Soriano hit his 18th home run of the season on a 1-2 pitch to give the Nationals a 7-0 lead.
Soriano now has 11 home runs at RFK and is once again proving to players like outfielder Jose Guillen that home runs can be hit at this park.
"The big thing is, Soriano is showing that this ballpark is very hittable. The way he makes this ballpark looks, we just go up there swinging," center fielder Marlon Byrd said. "You see him going up there trotting around the bases, smiling, coming into the dugout. It makes you say, 'We have a chance in this park.' "
In the next inning, Vento scored all the way from first base on a single by Ramon Ortiz and an error by center fielder Matt Kemp, who made his Major League debut on Sunday.
In the sixth inning, Nick Johnson hit his 11th home run of the season off reliever Tim Hamulak. He added a second home run in the eighth inning against Jonathan Broxton.
After watching his batting average dip to .275 on May 25, Johnson is 9-for-11 (.818) in his last three games and has his average up to .302.
"I don't now if I'm back," Johnson said. "I had a good day, and I'm working on having consistent at-bats."
Ortiz, who went 1-for-3, pitched seven solid innings, giving up three runs on four hits. He cruised through the first five innings, giving up just one hit, but the Dodgers got to him in the sixth by scoring three runs. Olmedo Saenz highlighted the scoring with a two-run homer.
Ortiz has won three consecutive games, and Robinson said Ortiz success comes from the fact that he is throwing first-pitch strikes to the hitters and not trying to blow hitters away with his fastball. In the first five innings on Sunday, Ortiz threw 10 first-pitch strikes.
"He is [throwing] a better breaking ball, and he has more faith in it breaking. He's throwing it in all types of situations and counts," Robinson said. "If you take notice how often he throws a first-pitch strike to hitters -- that makes a big difference. Giving him run support also helps, but you are slowly seeing him become what I call a pitcher. He's pretty consistent."
The Dodgers scored their final run of the game in the top of the eighth inning against reliever Jon Rauch. It could have been worse in that inning. The score was 9-4, and the Dodgers had the bases loaded, with two out and Saul Ramirez on the mound. Russell Martin hit a ball to center that looked as though it would fall for a base hit, but Byrd dove for the ball and made a impressive catch to end the inning.
The key to the play, according to Robinson, was Byrd getting a good jump on the ball. Byrd credits an opposing player for helping him make that play.
"I work on getting my jumps in the outfield," Byrd said. "If I get a good jump on the ball, I get close to the ball, and that's from watching Andrew Jones all these years. I'm taking piece by piece from him."
The Nationals improved their record to 21-30 and now head to Philadelphia to face the Phillies in a three-game series beginning Monday evening.
"But we still have to carry it over. It can't be a short-range thing," Robinson said. "We have to play well, give ourselves a chance to win ballgames, and I feel that's what we are doing right now. We have to dig, dig, dig a bit at a time and get out of the hole that we are in. We are back to nine games under .500. So we have to do it slowly but surely and win series. Don't underestimate that. We are starting to win series, and that's on the plus side. If we continue to do that for the next month, we'll be in good shape."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.