The Washington Nationals have a lot of work to do to become a factor in the NL postseason race, but they're on the brink of their best stretch of the season.
Ian Desmond is a key reason why.
Desmond looks to continue his offensive barrage in order to help the Nationals record their longest winning streak in over a year Thursday against the San Francisco Giants .
Washington (59-60) is the reigning NL East champion, but 14 games back of first-place Atlanta. The team is also 8 1/2 games behind Cincinnati for the league's second wild-card spot.
The Nationals are showing signs of potentially closing the gap on the Reds, winning five games in a row behind a .325 average and 33 runs.
They haven't put together a longer run since reeling off eight straight victories from Aug. 4-11, 2012.
Desmond has been vital to the recent surge, going 10 for 19 (.526) with four doubles and seven runs over the past five games. The shortstop hit a solo homer in Wednesday's 6-5 win over San Francisco (52-67) after collecting three hits and two runs Tuesday to open this three-game set.
Another big offensive effort seems likely since Desmond owns a .441 average with three doubles, three homers, six RBIs and 11 runs over his last 10 home meetings with the Giants.
Desmond and the Nationals haven't needed to do much offensively with Dan Haren (7-11, 4.99 ERA) on the mound.
The right-hander has won his last three starts behind a 1.29 ERA while limiting opposing batters to a .157 average. He had been 0-8 with a 6.18 ERA over his previous 11 starts, a stretch that included a stint on the disabled list for right shoulder inflammation.
Haren continued to put that injury - and poor stretch - behind him, yielding two runs and four hits in seven innings of a 9-2 win over Philadelphia on Friday.
"Physically, I was fine. Mentally, I was pretty messed up," Haren told the team's official website. "But baseball is an incredibly humbling game. When you're up, it'll just knock you right down. I couldn't have really gotten much lower than I did when I was on the DL. I mean, I was a bad start or two away from getting released, probably.
"That's just the truth of it, I think. I definitely feel way better the way I'm pitching now, and this is more me."
Haren is facing the Giants for the first time since a loss with Arizona in 2009.
San Francisco has lost three in a row, going 5 for 26 with runners in scoring position.
Ryan Vogelsong (2-4, 6.71) will make his second start since breaking his hand in an 8-0 win against the Nationals on May 20. The right-hander fouled a ball off his hand in the fifth inning, and was sidelined for nearly 12 weeks.
Before the injury, Vogelsong earned the win by allowing three hits in five innings.
He labored through six innings and 103 pitches in his return Friday, giving up two runs and issuing three walks in six innings of a 5-2 loss in 10 to Baltimore.
"I missed it. It felt great to get back out there and pitch again," Vogelsong said. "I just tried to think about the stuff I need to do to make pitches."
Vogelsong is making his first start in the nation's capital, and he's 0-2 with a 7.07 ERA in three road outings.
|San Francisco Giants|
|July 31, 2013||Pablo Sandoval||Day-to-Day||Bruised right heel|
|July 30, 2013||Buster Posey||Day-to-Day||Ill|
|July 29, 2013||Tony Abreu||15-Day DL||Left knee bursitis|
|July 25, 2013||Marco Scutaro||Day-to-Day||Back soreness|
|July 21, 2013||Jeremy Affeldt||15-Day DL||Strained left groin|
|July 09, 2013||Hector Sanchez||15-Day DL||Strained right shoulder|
|August 13, 2013||Wilson Ramos||Day-to-Day||Left game - strained left hamstring|
|August 11, 2013||Jayson Werth||Day-to-Day||Right knee|
|August 01, 2013||Ross Ohlendorf||15-Day DL||Right shoulder inflammation|
|July 24, 2013||Ian Desmond||Day-to-Day||Blister|
|July 24, 2013||Bryce Harper||Day-to-Day||Left knee soreness|
|July 04, 2013||Ross Detwiler||60-Day DL||Lower back strain|
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Pinch-hitter Hector Sanchez stepped to the plate with one thought in mind against Washington Nationals closer Rafael Soriano : Look for a fastball.
After being on the right side of a borderline call with the game on the line in the top of the ninth, Sanchez was ready for the next one. With a full count, he drove a three-run homer just inside the right field foul pole in the second deck, helping the San Francisco Giants beat the Nationals 4-3 on Thursday.
"In my mind I just think `Stay fair."' Sanchez said.
Sergio Romo worked a scoreless bottom half for his 29th save. Javier Lopez (2-2) pitched 1 2-3 scoreless innings of relief to earn the win.
The loss snapped Washington's five-game winning streak and spoiled Dan Haren 's six-inning, one-run effort.
"That one hurt," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said.
The Sanchez homer followed a 2-2 fastball that Soriano (2-3) thought was a strike, but home plate umpire Jim Joyce ruled high. Johnson acknowledged that Joyce had called the high pitch consistently a ball all game. His closer disagreed.
"That pitch, to me, I think it (was) a strike," Soriano said of the 2-2 pitch. "I think that's when the game changed."
Johnson, however, pointed to Soriano's walk of left fielder Roger Kieschnick with two outs and Buster Posey at first base after a leadoff single.
"A .250 hitter, you've got to get him out," Johnson said. "You can't come close. You've got to make him put it in play."
That set the stage for Sanchez, a switch-hitter who was batting left-handed. He turned on the next fastball and tucked it inside the foul pole.
"I know my job, like everybody," Sanchez said. "I have to be ready for that situation. I have to come into the cage during the game and get ready."
Ian Desmond doubled home two runs in the third inning and Jayson Werth added two hits for the Nationals.
Brandon Belt homered for the Giants and extended his hitting streak to 10 games. Ryan Vogelsong allowed three runs in the third inning, all with two outs.
San Francisco, which had a late rally fall short in a 6-5 loss on Wednesday, snapped a three-game losing streak
"The boys needed this," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "To come up short (Wednesday) after fighting so hard there in the ninth? Save a little sanity here."
Vogelsong labored during a 39-pitch third inning. Desmond's double into the gap in left-center drove home both Denard Span and Werth.
Adam LaRoche then followed with an RBI single to score Desmond and put the Nationals up 3-0.
In the seventh inning, LaRoche's line drive struck Giants reliever Sandy Rosario in the chest. Rosario immediately left the game and was replaced by Lopez. He was diagnosed with a bruised sternum.
"One of the hardest hits I've seen a pitcher take," Bochy said. "Scary moment. He's going to be sore for a couple of days."
San Francisco's struggling offense did little against Haren, who during one stretch allowed just two runners to reach base out of 14 batters. One of those runners came via error and was erased by a double play.
Belt snapped that stretch with a solo home run in the sixth inning to cut the deficit to 3-1. But Haren escaped the inning without further damage. He threw 98 pitches and gave up just one run on three hits with two walks and three strikeouts.
"A lot more positives than negatives," Desmond said of Washington's recent surge. "But right now, I think we're just kind of resting on the negative. Shake that off and we'll be ready to go (Friday in Atlanta)."
NOTES: Bochy said CF Angel Pagan (hamstring), on the DL since May 28, would begin a rehab assignment Friday with San Francisco's rookie affiliate in Arizona. He is expected to play three innings. ... Washington agreed to terms Thursday with international free agent 3B Anderson Franco, 16, of the Dominican Republic. ... The Nationals recalled RHP Drew Storen from Triple-A Syracuse and optioned RHP Ryan Mattheus to Syracuse. ... Nationals C Wilson Ramos (strained hamstring) missed his second straight game. Washington manager Davey Johnson said Ramos will return to the lineup Friday in Atlanta. ... The Nats begin a three-game series with the NL East-leading Braves. RHP Taylor Jordan (1-3, 4.14) opposes LHP Alex Wood (2-2, 2.78). ... The Giants continue their six-game road trip on Friday in Miami. RHP Chad Gaudin (5-2, 2.42) faces Nathan Evoldi (2-2, 2.82).