WASHINGTON — Manager Davey Johnson gave several of his starters a break Tuesday night after the Nationals clinched the National League East title Monday.
Adam LaRoche was one of just two regulars who started, and he helped Washington win again.
LaRoche started the sixth inning with a tiebreaking homer, and the Nationals went on to take a 4-2 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies.
The Nationals (97-64) moved one step closer to locking up the top spot in the National League playoffs and home-field advantage all the way through. The magic number for that now is one.
Washington is battling the Cincinnati Reds (also 97-64) for the top seed in the playoffs, but Johnson doesn’t seem terribly concerned with that.
“You’ve got to beat the teams you play,” Johnson said. “Pitching’s set up for whoever we play. More importantly, I’d like to see (Edwin) Jackson get his 10th win (Wednesday in the regular-season finale).”
A Washington win in that final game Wednesday afternoon would clinch the top seed, as the Nationals hold the tiebreaker over the Reds.
Johnson said that LaRoche wasn’t in the original starting lineup, but the first baseman was going to have one of these final two games off, and LaRoche told Johnson he could play.
Plus, the skipper and LaRoche both were hoping to see the first baseman reach 100 RBI this season. After playing only 43 games in 2011 due to a shoulder injury that required season-ending surgery midway through the season, LaRoche returned with a vengeance this season. Tuesday’s home run was his career-high 33rd, and he tied his career best with 100 RBI.
“It feels pretty good,” LaRoche said. “It’s kind of a milestone to reach 100. If I’d have finished on 99, it would have been a tough pill to swallow. It’s nice to have a little celebration two nights in a row.”
Johnson put in a number of his key bench players — they’ve nicknamed themselves “The Goon Squad” this year — and they produced.
Roger Bernadina got an RBI single and scored a run. Chad Tracy went 1-for-3, and Mark DeRosa finished 2-for-4 with a run.
DeRosa started at shortstop, the first time he’s played there since 2008 and his first start at the position since 2006.
It’s been a tough season for the 37-year old in several ways. The veteran lost his father earlier in the year, and injuries limited him to 47 games. DeRosa is batting .198, but the Nationals view him as a veteran leader who helps in the clubhouse — and he loves being part of the bench crew.
“The Goon Squad comes through again,” DeRosa said. “It was fun to be out there. For me personally, it’s been a frustrating season, but I don’t even worry about it. What this team’s accomplished and what I’ve been able to be a part of this year’s been pretty special.”
LaRoche broke a 1-1 tie with his line-drive homer into the right field bullpen off Josh Lindblom (3-5).
Later in the sixth, Steve Lombardozzi’s RBI single gave the Nationals a 3-1 lead.
Washington wound up using six pitchers, and Zach Duke (1-0) got the win with a scoreless sixth inning. Drew Storen came on in the ninth and recorded his fourth save.
Tom Gorzelanny got the start for Washington after Gio Gonzalez was scratched, and Gorzelanny ran into trouble in the third when the Phillies put runners on first and third with one out. Chase Utley grounded to LaRoche, and he threw home to catcher Sandy Leon, starting a run-down that eventually got Kevin Frandsen.
Gorzelanny then struck out Ty Wigginton to end the inning.
Philadelphia (81-80) took a 1-0 lead in the fourth when Darin Ruf led off the third with a homer to left.
The Nationals tied it in the bottom half of that inning. LaRoche doubled off the center field fence to lead off, went to third on a Tracy groundout and later scored on Bernadina’s single to left.
Ruf later added his second solo homer of the night, starting the eighth with a blast to left off Tyler Clippard to make it 3-2. Lombardozzi added a sacrifice fly for some insurance in the bottom of the inning for a 4-2 lead.
Ruf’s contract was selected from Double-A Reading of the Eastern League on Sept. 10. He came to the Phillies after his 38 homers led all minor-leaguers, and he has done well while getting some playing time in recent days. His average is up to .355 with three homers and nine RBI in 11 games.
“Coming into the final stretch here knowing that I was going to get to play a little bit, I was just trying to put myself in a spot where I can compete next year in spring training, if not for a starting job, just a spot on the team,” said Ruf, who’s headed to Venezuela for winter ball in about a week.
NOTES: Washington’s Bryce Harper was voted the National League Rookie of the Month for September. Harper led the majors with 26 runs in the month and also had a .651 slugging percentage to go along with seven homers and 35 RBI. Those were tops among NL rookies in the month, and he also hit .330 in September — second best among rookies. He also posted 11 multi-hit games in the month, one that began with questions of whether Harper needed a break since the 19-year-old had struggled in August. … Johnson pulled Gonzalez once Washington locked up the NL East title Monday night. Gonzalez will get extra rest before he starts Game 1 of the NL Division Series. … The Phillies have had seven players make their major league debuts this season, one of whom was B.J. Rosenberg, the starting pitcher in Tuesday’s game. … Ruf also homered against the Nationals on Sept. 25, his first major league homer and hit.