"Elijah is a work in progress. ...When he can start laying off the ones low and away that aren't strikes, he's going to be a real force in this league."-- Jim Riggleman, Aug. 25, 2009.
THE RESULT: For the second straight day, the Washington Nationals participated in a six-run inning. But Tuesday, they were on the proper end of things, as the Nats sent nine men to the plate in the fifth inning, including Elijah Dukes' first career grand slam, in a 15-6 drubbing of the Chicago Cubs, before 37,297 in the friendly confines of Wrigley Field.
Cubs starter Carlos Zambrano certainly helped the Nats' cause in the pivotal frame. He issued two walks and hit a batter during the rally, as the Nats scored six runs on just three hits, including the granny.
After the game, the Nationals announced that they had signed RHP Livan Hernandez, recently waived by the New York Mets, and scheduled him to start Wednesday's game.
The team optioned struggling Collin Balester to Triple-A Syracuse, and transferred Dmitri Young to the 60-day DL, to make room for Hernandez, the Nationals leader in wins since the team moved to D.C., on the active and 40-man rosters.
Dukes was understandably excited about it after the game. "I love scoring those guys that get on base and hitting the ball well. RBIs mean a lot to me," he said. "It's not about the average and the home runs, it's getting those RBIs."
Ryan Zimmerman and Josh Willingham both drove in runs during the inning.
Willingham homered twice in the game, and finished the night 4-for-4 with five runs and six RBIs. Dukes went 2-for-3 with a run and five RBI. Wil Nieves chipped in with three RBIs, hitting in the eighth slot in the order.
The 14-hit attack made a winner out of Garrett Mock (3-5, 5.23). He went five and tow thirds innings, and surrendered four earned runs, on seven hits and two walks. It was not a stellar performance, but he did strike out six, and kept the Cubs down enough as the Nationals batters kept pounding away.
Tyler Clippard and Saul Rivera each gave up a run in relief, but the outcome was pretty much decided before they entered the game.
Zambrano (L, 7-5, 3.80), making his first start since coming off the DL, was better at the plate than on the hill. He hit his fourth home run of the season to go along with his .245 average, but was beaten up on the mound. He went four and one-third, allowing eight earned runs on seven hits, three walks and hit one batter.
"There was nothing wrong," he said. "I made a lot of mistakes. They came ready today. I didn't do my job."
THE TAKEAWAY: Dukes has struggled a bit since his return from minor league exile, but certainly has had flashes of the immense talent he possesses. He had a week earlier where he drove in 10 runs in four days, and last night's explosion give him 51 RBI in just 261 at-bats.
He was extremely hot down the stretch last season, too. Let's see what he does the next five weeks.
THE GOOD: The return of the offense. Willingham's two, Dukes' granny, even Nieves getting in on the show. Everyone is a hitter when the wind is blowing out to center at Wrigley!
THE BAD: Willie Harris. The only starter without a hit.
THE UGLY: Yet ANOTHER botched suicide squeeze. That's three in three weeks. For the love of the game, Riggs, give it up.
NEXT GAME: Tonight at 8:05 PM ET. Livan Hernandez (7-8, 5.47) makes his 2009 Nats debut against Rich Harden (8-7, 4.04).