09/02/12 6:50 PM ET
Werth, LaRoche both expected back Monday
By Mike Fiammetta / MLB.com
Werth exited Saturday's game in the ninth inning with hamstring cramps, saying afterward it "felt intelligent not to play any longer." He was initially set to lead off Sunday, but as players were running onto the field, it was announced Roger Bernadina would play center field, while Bryce Harper moved over to right field.
After Saturday's game, Werth said it had been four or five years since he cramped up during a game and "hopefully it's just that and no big deal." After he was a late scratch from the game, some initial cause for concern seemed rational, but Johnson denied that after the game.
"He's doing better," Johnson said. "He was right around me all day, so I know he was chomping at the bit. I was going to let him hit off of their starter because they had a left-hander in the 'pen, but when they didn't, I was just going to let LaRoche hit. But he said his leg was feeling better as the game went on, so he should be good to go [on Monday]."
LaRoche, meanwhile, was held out of the lineup with a sore back, though he did pinch-hit for Stephen Strasburg in the bottom of the sixth and flew out to center field. Chad Tracy manned first base in his absence.
Johnson said LaRoche texted him late Saturday night to say his back had been bothering him for the past two or three days.
"His back has been bothering him for the last two or three days, but he's been hitting the heck out of the ball, so I hadn't even asked him how he's been," Johnson said. "But when he texted me last night, I said, 'You've earned it. I'll give you a breather.'"
Upon noticing Werth wasn't in the lineup, LaRoche did tell Johnson that he could play. Instead, Johnson opted to keep him out of the lineup being that Werth needs continued at-bats as he works back toward full playing strength.
"I'll probably have to wrestle them to keep them out of the lineup [on Monday]," Johnson said.
Patience pays off as Harper breaks out of funk
WASHINGTON -- Just like the Nationals' five-game losing streak last week, Bryce Harper's struggles at the plate are suddenly a thing of the past.
After seeing his batting average dip as low as .248 during the Nats' skid in losses at the Phillies and Marlins, Harper is on a five-game hitting streak and his average was back up to .256 entering Sunday. The young outfielder is 9-for-22 (.409) in that span, with three home runs and eight RBIs.
Washington is 3-2 in that stretch, and with a chance to win its series against St. Louis on Sunday, the respective swoons have largely faded into the background. The reasons for that aren't any sweeping adjustment or alteration, but rather a simple case of staying the course.
"I haven't really changed anything," Harper said. "I'm just trying to stay within myself, and my swing's been the same all year. I think it's just a matter of trying to not do too much and be as patient as I can and wait for my pitch to drive."
Manager Davey Johnson echoed that sentiment earlier in the week, saying much of Harper's improvement is credited to a more patient attitude. After Harper knocked his third home run in two days on Thursday, Johnson said Harper has "gotten a little calmer with his lower half."
Those changes have carried forward, as Harper has enjoyed multi-hit efforts in each of his last four games. But while Harper's numbers have soared since the Nationals returned home, he hasn't been alone. Against the Cardinals, whose rotation boasts the fourth-best ERA in the NL at 3.73, Washington has outscored St. Louis, 27-11.
"These past two days, we've done a pretty dang good job of getting out of that and scoring some runs," Harper said. "Our pitching's been great, and hopefully we keep it going."
First pitch was pushed back 10 minutes to 1:45 p.m. ET. No reason was given, though clouds had gathered earlier in the afternoon.
Stephen Strasburg faced the Cardinals for the first time in his career on Sunday.
Entering Sunday, the Nationals have averaged 8.8 runs per game over their last four games and led the National League with 238 runs since the All-Star break.
Mike Fiammetta is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.