Friday, July 1, 2016

Espinosa powers Nats' rout with slam, 7 RBIs

 Danny Espinosa launched a pair of home runs, including a grand slam, and drove in seven to help pace an offensive outburst for the Nationals in a 13-4 victory against the Reds on Thursday night at Nationals Park. The 13 runs for Washington matched a season high and extended the club's winning streak to five games. Meanwhile, Cincinnati dropped its fourth game in a row and eighth in its last nine.
The Nats already led 4-1 in the third inning when Espinosa hammered his second career grand slam to left-center off Reds left-hander Brandon Finnegan. Espinosa's second homer of the night came in the fourth off right-hander Josh Smith, a three-run blast from the left side of the plate. It was Espinosa's fourth career multihomer game, and he became the first player in franchise history since Geoff Blum in 2001 with homers from both sides of the plate, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
"I wasn't going up there trying to do that or trying to create," Espinosa said. "I was just trying to have good at-bats, and it feels awesome to help the team out and give us a good win right there."
Finnegan was finished after the grand slam to end the worst start of his young career. He allowed a career-high eight runs on five hits with five walks in 2 1/3 innings, the shortest start of his career.
"That combination of walks and homers, they don't work terribly well together as you know," Reds manager Bryan Price said.
The Nationals had lost each of left-hander Gio Gonzalez's last seven starts, but he bounced back a bit with his outing. He struck out nine batters in six innings, but allowed four runs, including a three-run sixth by the Reds highlighted by a solo homer from Joey Votto.
Power punch for Espinosa:  Espinosa's career night included a homer from both sides of the plate, seven RBIs (the most by any Nationals player in a single game since Josh Willingham drove in eight in 2009) and a pair of curtain calls from the fans at Nationals Park.
"It means a lot," Espinosa said about the curtain call. "The fans are in it. They're enjoying it. As a player you enjoy the fact that the fans are behind you."
Espinosa was the focus of criticism at the start of this month, with some wondering why he was the starting shortstop while Trea Turner, the team's top hitting prospect, stayed in the Minors. But Espinosa has done his best to quell any of that with a stellar month of June, batting .309/.418/.704 with nine homers, 21 RBIs and a 1.122 OPS. More >
Rally that fizzled: The Reds had Gonzalez on the defensive to open the game with the bases loaded and no outs three batters into the first inning on Zack Cozart's walk, Votto's double and Brandon Phillips being hit by a pitch. Jay Bruce's double-play ball yielded the lone run from the rally before Adam Duvall flied out.
"That was certainly an opportunity to create a little bit more separation early in the game. It didn't happen," Price said.
On the right track:  While Espinosa will likely be disappointed to see the calendar turn from June, Gonzalez will be happy to move on from a down month. He entered Thursday with a 7.16 ERA in five June starts, but showed signs of progress in this one. Gonzalez worked his way out of a jam in the first inning to only allow one run before settling into a groove that included a stretch of seven strikeouts in nine batters. He scuffled a bit to close out the outing by allowing three runs in the sixth, but overall Gonzalez took it as a positive.
"It's a step to the right direction," Gonzalez said. "Especially with my last start only going three innings, [and] now going six. It's still pushing, you're still grinding."
Reds show life in sixth: The Reds put three balls in play and struck out nine times from the second through fifth innings. But a three-run sixth vs. Gonzalez was sparked by Votto's leadoff homer to left field on the first pitch. It gave Votto 14 homers, which is tied for third on the club. He also has hit three of Cincinnati's last five homers. That capped an improved June, with Votto batting .319 (29-for-91) with five homers and 10 RBIs.
"Not much to say about it -- just definitely my worst outing of the year, of my life, honestly. I just have to get ready for my next start." -- Finnegan
The Reds have allowed 13 or more runs eight times this season and twice in one week. It also happened last Friday vs. the Padres.
Reds: Coming off two nice starts, including eight scoreless innings his last time out,Anthony DeSclafani will take the ball when the series continues at 6:05 p.m. ET on Friday. DeSclafani is 1-0 with a 2.35 ERA in five career games (two starts) vs. Washington.
Nationals: The Nats will go for their sixth straight win as right-hander Tanner Roark takes the mound Friday night. Roark had his shortest outing of the season against the Reds in Cincinnati earlier this month, when he allowed five runs on seven hits in three innings.

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