Bryce Harper homered on his first swing since coming off the disabled list and his Washington Nationals teammates quickly joined in, beating the slumping Milwaukee Brewers 10-5 on Monday night.
After missing 31 games with bursitis in his left knee – the most lingering fallout from his collision with the Dodger Stadium wall – Harper energized the Nationals and sparked their second rout in two days. After toying with .500 for the entire month of June, Washington moved two games above the break-even mark for the first time since late May.
Jayson Werth had five RBIs, and even pitcher Jordan Zimmermann was an offensive juggernaut with a team-high three hits, including a double to start a five-run third inning and a single to open a two-run fourth.
Working with an 8-0 lead, Zimmermann (12-3) pitched six innings and allowed four runs to tie unbeaten Max Scherzer of the Detroit Tigers for the major league lead in wins.
The Nationals, perhaps finally finding their stride after a middling first half of the season, have won five of seven to pull within six games of the first-place Atlanta Braves in the NL East. Washington scored a season-high 13 runs on Sunday against the New York Mets.
Batting third and playing left field, Harper launched the second pitch he saw – a fastball from Yovani Gallardo (6-8) – into the visitors’ bullpen beyond left field for an opposite-field homer. He raised his right arm and pointed to the fans as he finished his familiar sprint around the bases. After lots of high-fives in the dugout, he returned to the top of the steps and gave a thumbs-up curtain call.
The solo shot was Harper’s 13th homer of the season and 24th RBI. The 20-year-old slugger hurt his knee in the mishap in Los Angeles on May 13 and reinjured it several times over the following two weeks before going on the 15-day disabled list. He went 4 for 11 in minor league rehab games last week and was reinstated a few hours before Monday’s game.
The Nationals improved to 26-19 when Harper plays; they are 16-21 when he doesn’t.
”Not only his bat, but I think the energy he brings, he takes a lot of the focus and he’s a competitor,” Nationals manager Davey Johnson said before the game. ”Just to have that 20-year-old energy running around 100 percent, I’m sure he’s still probably going to run into the wall, I’m sure he’s going to dive headfirst. … I don’t want to put a damper on that. That’s who he is, and that’s how he plays the game, and that’s great.”
Harper finished 1 for 4 with a walk. He slid hard into second base on a double play in the sixth inning, showing no signs of gimpiness with his knee.
Gallardo was in trouble early. With the Brewers’ bullpen spent after Sunday’s 14-inning loss to Pittsburgh, the right-hander was left to fend for himself until he was pulled in the fourth inning. He allowed eight runs, and his ERA rose from 4.20 to 4.78.
The Brewers, missing injured slugger Ryan Braun, have lost six straight and are 32-49 at the midpoint of their season.
At least they tried to make a game of it. Trailing by eight, they scored a pair in the fifth and sixth innings and had the potential tying run on deck after scoring one run in the seventh. The Nationals answered with two in the eighth.
NOTES: Johnson said LHP Ross Detwiler had a good bullpen session and is on pace to start Wednesday as scheduled. Detwiler had stiffness in his lower back after his last start. … The Nationals optioned RHP Erik Davis to Triple-A Syracuse to make room for Harper. … Brewers RHP Kyle Lohse will make his next start Wednesday on two days’ rest. Lohse started Sunday, but he went only 1 2-3 innings before a 2-hour rain delay.