MILWAUKEE — Three key bats were out of the lineup against one of the best young pitchers in baseball, a struggling starting pitcher was on the mound and the bullpen was taxed after a 16-inning loss the night before.
It seemed like everything was stacked against the Milwaukee Brewers on Wednesday afternoon.
But instead of being swept for the first time this season, the Brewers pounded Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg and received a strong start from Marco Estrada to cruise to a 9-2 victory in front of 39,049 at Miller Park.
"You never want to get swept," Brewers second baseman Scooter Gennett said. "After last night’s game, that was a tough loss, and it was nice to bounce back and get a win."
The blow that changed the course of Wednesday’s game was delivered by Gennett in the second inning. Milwaukee loaded the bases with one out against Strasburg, but the young right-hander struck out Estrada for the second out.
After scoring just two runs in 26 innings to start the series with the Nationals, the Brewers couldn’t let another opportunity slip away. Gennett jumped on a 2-1 fastball from Strasburg and hit it 428 feet to right-center field for his first-career grand slam.
"You get out of that and it’s a different ballgame," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "I mean, who knows? Maybe Strasburg shuts us down the rest of the way. Huge at-bat."
The Nationals cut Milwaukee’s lead to 4-2 on an RBI double from Ian Desmond in the fourth, but Khris Davis helped the Brewers answer right back with a solo home run off Strasburg in the bottom half of the same inning.
Davis drove in two more runs in the fifth, dropping in a two-out single with the bases loaded, chasing Strasburg in the process. Strasburg was tagged with seven earned runs Wednesday, tying a career high for runs allowed.
"Today is a new day and we moved on from yesterday, forgot about it, had that short-term memory," Brewers left fielder Khris Davis said. "There was no lingering of last night. Once everybody showed up, we were all pretty focused on today."
Gennett added to his big day with a run-scoring single in the sixth to finish with a career-high five RBI to go along with his fifth home run of the season. In his first full season in the big leagues, Gennett leads all qualified second baseman in baseball with a .473 slugging percentage.
"You don’t think he’s going to hit the ball far, but he’s strong and has a really good swing," Brewers center fielder Carlos Gomez said. "He could hit 20 home runs. He’s still learning and making an adjustment every day.
"It’s not like he gets cheap base hits. He hits the ball hard. For a little dude, he hits the ball hard."
Entering with a 7.58 ERA over his last seven starts, Estrada allowed just two runs on two hits with four walks and four strikeouts over 6 1/3 innings. The Nationals scored without a hit in the second inning, while Desmond’s RBI double in the fourth plated their only other run.
"I think it was a real important outing for him," Roenicke said. "You can’t continually go out there and give up runs all the time. If you see a guy going in the wrong direction, it’s huge for us, looking at a guy who hasn’t pitched the way we thought he was going to. It’s important for him to get back in that mode that we know he can do. So for him, I think (it was) a real important outing."
Although he ended up getting charged with seven earned runs last Friday in Colorado, Estrada wasn’t helped by early defensive miscues and bounced back to pitch three scoreless innings at the end of his outing.
"Things went well today," Estrada said. "My last outing, I thought I threw the ball really well. I know the line doesn’t show it but my confidence was there. My confidence has always been there. It’s tougher when things aren’t going your way and you’re not pitching as well as you know you can but you try to not think about it. The last few days, I’ve been feeling really good.
"I’ve got to cut those walks down. I wasn’t missing by much to be honest with you but that’s the way it goes sometimes; sometimes you get the calls you want and sometimes you don’t. There were a couple batters where I thought I made some good pitches but I didn’t get the call. You just have to shake it off and move on to the next guy. That’s all you can do."
With a couple of bullpen arms down after the 16-inning marathon, the Brewers needed Estrada to go deep into the game. He came back out for the seventh inning despite being at 100 pitches but was pulled after giving up a one-out single and issuing a walk to Nate McClouth.
As Brandon Kintzler came on to work out of the jam, Estrada left to a standing ovation from the Miller Park crowd.
"It was really nice to hear the crowd behind me," Estrada said. "It’s been a tough month and a half or whatever it’s been but to come out of the game and see the fans are still behind me — not just me, but the way the game was going, I’m sure everyone was really excited about it — but to get some cheers in that game, it made me feel really good."
War of words: Benches cleared in the eighth inning Wednesday after Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond took offense to the way Carlos Gomez tried to break up a double play.
Gomez slid hard, but right into second base in an effort to prevent second baseman Kevin Frandsen from getting of the throw to first.
Nothing came of the benches clearing, as Nationals manager Matt Williams appeared to pat Gomez on the back as things broke up.
"I just told him I didn’t agree with the way he slid into second base with a seven-run lead," Desmond said. "I’ve defended that guy in a lot of clubhouse arguments. I respect the way he plays the game, but I got no respect for that. If he thinks he got drilled on purpose by our pitcher making his Major League debut . . . to take it out on a guy who’s grinded his butt off to make a Major League career in Kevin Frandsen. What if potentially his career right there.
"In a World Series game, you slide like that. In a seven-run differential game, there’s no time for that. If you’re going to defend that, I’ve got no respect if you can defend that."
Roenicke saw no issue with the way Gomez slid into second base, especially after the center fielder was hit by a pitch just a few minutes earlier.
"Just Gomey going in hard to second base," Roenicke said. "And he did go in hard. You get hit with a ball, you get a little adrenaline going, and you’re going to go in hard. It was a clean slide, it was right at the bag, so I didn’t have a problem with it."
Gomez wouldn’t speak to what was said in the conversation, but he did offer a light-hearted account.
"He liked my shoes," Gomez said with a smile. "I told him to go to NikeID.com and get some."