Church returned to the lineup with a pair of homers and a career-high six RBIs on Wednesday night, keeping the Nationals on their offensive tear with a 12-7 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.
The Nationals hit a season-high four homers during their biggest run splurge in more than a year. Brian Schneider and Ryan Zimmerman also homered for Washington, which ranks last in the league in runs, homers and batting average.
“It’s about time we broke out,” Schneider said. “Our pitching has been carrying us long enough. This is a good park to hit in, and we’d better take advantage of it.”
Church didn’t hit during the first two games at Great American Ball Park because his left forearm was swollen after getting plunked by a pitch on Sunday. After his two-run homer in the first inning off Kyle Lohse (1-6) got the offense going, Church’s forearm started bothering him again.
He played through the pain and wound up with a career night. The Nationals hadn’t scored so many runs since a 12-8 win at Houston on April 8 last year.
“It’s still swollen,” said Church, who had the forearm wrapped afterward. “I could tell after the first at-bat that it was getting a little swollen. There’s not much you can do.”
By going up 2-1 in the four-game series, Washington made some company for itself at the bottom of the National League. The Nationals and Reds are now tied for the NL’s worst record at 18-29.
The Reds keep stumbling to new lows. They’ve lost 16 of 21, falling 11 games under .500 for the first time since the end of the 2005 season.
Reds owner Bob Castellini visited the clubhouse before the game and addressed the team for the first time this season. It didn’t work.
“It was very encouraging, very positive, short and to the point,” manager Jerry Narron said of the owner’s talk.
Jason Simontacchi (2-2) got his first road victory and pulled out of his recent funk against the Reds. The right-hander had been 0-4 with a 7.20 ERA in his past eight appearances against Cincinnati. He gave up a leadoff homer to Ryan Freel in the first inning, then settled in, allowing four hits in 5 1-3 innings.
The Nationals have been playing catch-up since their 1-8 start. They’ve won nine of their past 13 games, in part because their offense is coming around. The Nationals have scored 27 runs in the series, by far their best three-game total all season.
“We’re starting to catch up to our pitching,” Church said. “Our pitchers have been doing a heck of a job keeping us in games. Our hitters have been struggling to get the key hits.”
A homer-friendly ballpark and a wobbly Reds pitching staff have helped.
The biggest crowd of the series—31,971 bought tickets for a Bronson Arroyo bobblehead giveaway—spent much of the evening collectively groaning.
Lohse retired only four batters in the shortest appearance of his career last Friday in Cleveland, giving up seven runs. He allowed seven more—six earned—in 4 2-3 innings against Washington. Lohse is the first Red to lose six consecutive starts since Chris Reitsma in 2001.
Lohse came down with a virus that has been going through the clubhouse, but started the game anyway because there was no other option with the bullpen worn down.
“I thought I could go out there and do it, but it just didn’t work out very well,” Lohse said. “It’s tough to go out there when you don’t have any feel for what you’re doing and you don’t feel very good.”
Fans in the left-field bleachers chanted “Homer Bailey!”—Cincinnati’s top pitching prospect in Triple-A—after Todd Coffey gave up back-to-back homers to Zimmerman and Church in the seventh, making it 9-1.
Washington reliever Ray King was ejected by plate umpire Lance Barksdale for arguing a ball-and-strike call from the mound, and manager Manny Acta had to get between the two and nudge the reliever toward the dugout.
It was the third career multihomer game for Church, who hadn’t driven in more than four runs in any game. His big game came a day after SS Felipe Lopez drove in a career-high six runs in an 8-4 win. … The Nationals hadn’t hit back-to-back homers all season. … Medical tests confirmed that Reds OF Josh Hamilton has nothing more serious than an inflamed digestive tract. Hamilton developed severe pains over the weekend, and the Reds put him on the 15-day DL.