ST. LOUIS -- After driving in the game-winning runs in the 10th inning Saturday night, Kurt Suzuki was back in the Nationals' lineup for the ninth straight game Sunday afternoon.
That kind of quick turnaround can be tough on a catcher, as can taking a beating behind the plate that many days in a row. But Suzuki's continued presence represents two important trends for the Nationals: They're sticking with their all-hands-on-deck approach until they clinch the National League East, and Suzuki is playing too well to be taken out of the lineup.
"He's really been playing well. It's not time to rest," manager Davey Johnson said Sunday morning. "He has said on occasion before, 'I want 'em all.' With the way he's playing, he might get 'em all."
Suzuki has hit .435 with two doubles, a homer and seven RBIs over the last six games, but his success at the plate stretches back over a month to Aug. 25. Since then, he's posted a .322/.364/.522 batting line, raising his average from .213 to .236 and his OPS from .526 to .605.
When the Nationals acquired Suzuki from Oakland shortly after the Trade Deadline, they knew they were getting a No. 1 catcher in terms of his ability behind the plate, and he's delivered on that front. But with how well he's hit lately, that deal is looking more and more like an absolute steal.
"He added a pretty good spark. He's a good hitter and a great catcher," starter Jordan Zimmermann said Saturday night. "I like throwing to him. I think all the other guys like throwing to him. He calls great games, and every time I'm out there, I feel like we're on the same page."
So Suzuki will keep playing every game, at least until the Nationals officially knock the Braves out of contention in the NL East. Then, maybe, he can finally get a few days off before the playoffs begin.
"It's nice to keep winning games. The last couple weeks, I ain't gonna lie, it's tough," Suzuki said. "To get that much closer, just take it day by day. But we know we're getting that much closer, so it's definitely nice."
Nationals enjoying stretch of good health
ST. LOUIS -- Davey Johnson hasn't seen a whole lot of the Nationals' training staff lately, and he couldn't be happier about it.
"I'd say we are [the healthiest they've been]," Johnson said. "I haven't even seen our trainer [Lee Kuntz], he hasn't come around. Although he also knows -- I also told him, 'I don't want to know, so don't come and talk to me.'"
With four games remaining in the regular season, Washington appears to be in good health. Michael Morse has hit three homers in the last three games, easing any lingering concerns that his power had been completely sapped by wrist and hand injuries. The pitching staff is in good shape, and the other Nationals position players who have sustained injuries throughout the season seem to be playing without pain, an encouraging sign as the postseason approaches, particularly on the offensive side.
"It looks like Mikey Mo's healthy again, so with him being healthy and hitting fifth and then obviously [shortstop Ian Desmond] has been unbelievable," third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "You have those guys [Nos.] 5-6 in your lineup, that's a long lineup to face."
In addition to being injury-free, the Nationals' regulars could benefit even further from the additional rest clinching Sunday or Monday would afford them. Johnson said Sunday that he would "probably" give them all at least some rest, even though they're in good shape and wouldn't usually ask to come out of a game. Zimmerman acknowledged that having to play meaningful games so deep into the regular season could keep them sharp but admitted it would be nice for them to have a day or two off their feet.
"Thank goodness, after today it won't matter. Philadelphia's out of it, so I can't be blamed for trying to win a game to help somebody else out," Johnson joked. "We went over that, didn't we? It wasn't going to bother me, but now I'm off the hook on that one."
In between the Cardinals' three-run seventh inning and their game-tying run off Drew Storen in the ninth, Tyler Clippard pitched a scoreless eighth inning and faced only three batters on 15 pitches, thanks to an inning-ending double play. It was Clippard's second straight scoreless 15-pitch outing after giving up runs in four consecutive appearances, seemingly confirming that the reliever is back on track.
"No doubt. At any point in the season, you're going to have your ups and downs as a reliever. There's no middle ground when you're throwing late in games," Storen said Saturday night. "And Tyler didn't sit around and feel sorry for himself. He made the adjustments, and obviously it's paying off. He's going to be a huge part of this bullpen in the next couple weeks. I'm fired up for him. We expect to be out there again tomorrow doing it."
By winning Saturday night, the Nationals guaranteed themselves at least a one-game playoff for the NL East title. They clinched at least a spot in the NL Wild Card game on Sept. 20. Johnson poked fun at the fact that Washington keeps adding to its playoff schedule, one game at a time.
"Now we have to clinch another one, then we get three games. Oh, wow," he said. "Then we win three [in the NLDS], then we get four. It's kind of an interesting scenario."