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Morse gives the Nats the win with a solo shot

WASHINGTON -- Michael Morse and John Lannan each say nothing changed, it just took some time to get going.

Morse lost his Opening Day job in left field after struggling at the plate, and Lannan took four losses with a 6.06 ERA in his six starts prior to Friday. But without changing a thing, each felt better in the series opener at Nationals Park, where they both led Washington to a 2-1 win over San Diego.

Morse sent the first pitch of the bottom of the ninth sailing over the left-field fence for a walk-off win in front of a crowd of 21,024.

"I knew I could hit, but it's baseball and it's a long season," Morse said. "One thing I didn't do was lose faith in myself, and that was a big part of growing up as a hitter. [Nationals hitting coach] Rick Eckstein's helped me a lot with that mental approach. I haven't changed anything."

The only thing that changed was the results, much like they did for Lannan on this night.

The left-hander threw 7 2/3 innings of two-hit baseball before turning it over to closer Drew Storen in the eighth inning with two men on.

Storen struck out Chris Denorfia to escape the inning, but allowed a first-pitch homer to Jason Bartlett to tie the game at 1 in the top of the ninth, leaving Lannan with a no-decision.

"Drew hadn't thrown much in the last week ... so he was available to do a lot of work tonight," said manager Jim Riggleman. "Four outs is nothing for a closer, especially when you've had a lot of rest."

Storen recovered from the long ball to record the next three outs, later earning the win courtesy of Morse's long ball.

It was one of only four hits for Washington, and both runs came on home runs. Second baseman Danny Espinosa recorded his team-best 28th RBI with a homer in the fifth.

Washington (22-28) and San Diego (20-31) entered the evening with the two lowest team batting averages in baseball, and Lannan took complete control against the Padres.

"He had a good sinker going and we couldn't elevate the ball against him," said Padres manager Bud Black. "He showed good use of his fastball."

But the sinker was the difference, according to Lannan.

And like Morse, it had nothing to do with a changed technique or approach.

"It's just frustrating because it took 10 starts. I had to battle every start until tonight," said Lannan, who threw 66 of his 93 pitches for strikes. "I think it was because of my sinker -- I just trusted it."

Riggleman saw enough out of Lannan through the first three innings, when the lefty sent the Padres down in order, to send him back out after a 47-minute rain delay in the top of the fourth.

It was the first time Lannan returned after a break, and while he lost his bid for a no-hitter in the fifth inning on a Chase Headley single, he felt every bit as strong.

"I kept on moving and I threw twice [during the delay], so it's just something you have to get a feel for," Lannan said.

Lannan struck out each batter on either side of the rain delay and had five punchouts in the game, but a majority of his outs came via the ground ball. Eleven Padres grounded out to the left side of the infield, and Lannan fielded two weakly hit balls and one bunt attempt.

"When you see ground balls going to short and third, that's his game," Riggleman said. "It means the ball's sinking for him and he's got his changeup going. That's what he had going for him."

And it was not a product of any changes for Lannan, just an improved comfort level with his pitches and a return to his style.

After Morse's fourth straight game with a homer, the same can be said for both of them.

"He's just being Michael Morse," said Jerry Hairston, Jr., who home-plate umpire Ed Hickox ejected in the seventh inning after Hairston asked for time to set up in the batter's box but was not granted it, resulting in Hairston flying out to center. "He's really come a long way in the past year or so and it's good to see, because we're going to need that." Comments