Brewers hit trio of homers to back Davies' strong start
WASHINGTON -- Though Zach Davies showed he's a triple-threat, the starting pitcher's best weapon was the one you'd least expect.
Travis Shaw, Eric Thames and Manny Pina homered, Davies tossed 7 2/3 innings and the Milwaukee Brewers beat the Washington Nationals 8-0 on Tuesday night.
Shaw's three-run blast highlighted a four-run fourth inning. Thames and Pina went back-to-back off Edwin Jackson (1-1) in the fifth for the NL Central-leading Brewers.
Milwaukee, which had lost six of seven to open its 10-game road trip, maintained a half-game lead over the Chicago Cubs.
Davies (12-4) allowed three hits and struck out seven against an offense leading the NL with a .278 batting average.
"Everything was working. Everything was in the zone," said Davies, who won his fifth consecutive decision.
Asked how he'd rate the outing, Davies said, "From seeing the way the ball was moving and the way I controlled it, it was probably my best game of the year so far."
Davies also drove in the Brewers' first run when he bunted toward the mound with runners on first and third in the second inning and Pina raced home ahead of Jackson's throw.
Yet for manager Craig Counsell, the pitcher's work on the base paths in the decisive fourth inning changed the game.
After Orlando Arcia's one-out single in the fourth, Davies pushed his sacrifice bunt toward first base and reached on Ryan Zimmerman's wild throw. One out later, Daniel Murphy fielded Ryan Braun's grounder behind second base, but a hustling Davies extended the inning by beating the throw to second.
Arcia scored on the play and Shaw promptly delivered his seventh three-run homer of the season for a 5-0 lead. All four runs in the inning were unearned.
"The base-running play (Davies) made was the biggest play of the game," Counsell said. "You don't see that that often from a pitcher."
Bryce Harper's eighth-inning double off Oliver Drake extended his hitting streak to a career-high 17 games. Harper is batting .426 (29 for 68) during his streak, but he struck out twice in three hitless at-bats against Davies despite a deep scouting report.
"I've known Davies ever since we were 10, 11 years old," Harper said. "Grew up as a shortstop, got to the mound and he's done his thing this year. Shoot, 12 wins, that's big time."
Jackson, who made 31 starts for Washington in 2012, began his second stint with the NL East leaders a week ago with seven solid innings in a win over the Angels. In his encore performance, Jackson allowed seven runs -- three earned -- in five innings.
"He didn't have the command that he had last time," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said of Jackson. "He was wild high and away. The home runs didn't help. It was a rough night for Edwin tonight."
Brewers: RHP Brandon Woodruff (hamstring) was reinstated from the disabled list and optioned to Triple-A Colorado Springs. Woodruff allowed eight runs -- four earned -- and five hits in two-thirds of an inning Monday during a rehab start.
Nationals: RHP Stephen Strasburg, who left Sunday's start after two innings with forearm pain, is expected to start Friday against the Colorado Rockies. The right-hander was diagnosed with a nerve impingement that is no longer a problem. "The doctor said he's doing fine. Hoping he'll progress enough to make the next start," Baker said.
DROP DOWN, STEP UP
Thames' 24th home run came while batting fifth. It marked the first time all season the slugger hit lower than third in the lineup. "Just something a little different. It may be a one-day thing," Counsell said. "No matter where you hit you take your at-bat. There's no manual for hitting fifth or manual for hitting second. It's really just about splitting those left-handers up a little bit."
Brewers: RHP Jimmy Nelson (8-5, 3.43 ERA) is 1-1 with a 5.28 ERA in three career starts against Washington.
Nationals: LHP Gio Gonzalez (8-5, 2.83 ERA) has a 2.67 ERA in four July starts, but is 1-3 in those appearances.