WASHINGTON -- The day began with manager Davey Johnson calling a team meeting in which he appealed for more aggression at the plate and mistook his starting pitcher's heat pad for a neck brace.
It ended with the Washington Nationals accomplishing something they hadn't done all season -- coming from three runs down to win a ballgame.
The Nationals swept a day-night doubleheader from the Minnesota Twins on Sunday, climbing back to .500 and showing signs of an offensive breakthrough by pounding out a combined 24 hits in the 7-0 opener and 5-4 nightcap.
"I don't know if I've ever played a doubleheader," said shortstop Ian Desmond, "where you pretty much had to win both."
That sums up the angst that was spreading among the preseason NL East favourite Nationals, even though there are still 100 games to go before the finish line of the regular season.
"It's good to get back to .500 -- and get on with it," Johnson said.
Desmond doubled home the go-ahead run in the seventh inning of the second game after Jordan Zimmermann dominated the opener, allowing two hits over seven innings.
Zimmermann (9-3) struck out eight with a season-high 111 pitches while dropping his ERA to 2.00. He moved into a tie with Boston's Clay Buchholz, Arizona's Patrick Corbin and St. Louis' Adam Wainwright for most wins in the majors.
Zimmermann had Johnson worried before the game when the pitcher showed up for the team meeting with something on his neck. The right-hander has had a stiff neck off-and-on for a couple of weeks.
"I'm hoping he wears that neck brace every time he goes out," Johnson said. "That was a heck of a game."
Zimmermann later clarified that it was actually a heating pad, a precautionary measure after feeling some tightness a few days ago.
"I didn't want to take any chances," Zimmermann said. "So I figure heat it up and it'll be good to go."
Johnson also joked that he might have to hold more team meetings after watching his offence score five runs in the fifth inning of the first game. The Nationals had totalled just 14 runs in their previous seven games.
"I'll have it every day if we get 14 hits and seven runs, but it wasn't much of a meeting," Johnson said. "It was about three minutes or something like that. I was just cheering 'em up."
Asked what he got from the meeting, second baseman Anthony Rendon said: "Swing."
"Just be aggressive," Rendon said. "That's basically what he was trying to say. Just go out there and try to hit."
And that's what they did. The Nationals scored a pair in the fourth and five in the fifth to chase starter Scott Diamond (4-5), using a lineup that had a pair of natural second basemen in the outfield -- Jeff Kobernus in centre, Steve Lombardozzi in left -- and a converted third baseman, Rendon, at second.
Regular centre fielder Denard Span missed the first game after fouling a pitch off his right foot in Saturday's 11-inning loss, but played in the nightcap. Usual left fielder Bryce Harper is on the disabled list with a sore knee and was en route for his Monday appointment with renowned specialist Dr. James Andrews.
The Nationals, who have come from two runs down to win only twice this season, climbed their way back from a 4-1 hole in the second game. They scored single runs in the first, third, fifth, sixth and seventh, with Desmond extending his hitting streak to a career-high 12 games with his double off reliever Anthony Swarzak (1-2).
"Normally, early on in the season, when we would get behind, we would just kind of fold and give away at-bats," said Span, who had an RBI triple to tie the game in the sixth. "And (tonight) we just kept fighting and having good at-bats."
The nightcap was played before a small crowd -- it was the makeup from Friday's rainout -- and was mostly a tedious game of attrition between recent Triple-A call-ups. Minnesota's Samuel Deduno laboured through five innings in his fourth start since arriving from Rochester, and Washington's Nathan Karns lasted only three innings in his third start since getting a promotion from Syracuse.
Both teams wasted plenty of chances -- they combined to leave 18 runners on base -- and the Twins managed only two runs in the second and two in the third against Karns, who is expected to go back to Syracuse once Stephen Strasburg comes off the disabled list in a few days.
"Hit some balls right on the screws, seemed to go right at them," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "They got a couple of big hits and ended up getting the win. Very frustrating game for us."
The Twins helped out the Nationals' cause in the first game with some flubs in the field. First baseman Justin Morneau allowed an extra run to score when he failed to come off the bag to field a late, off-target throw from Florimon, and Washington's five-run barrage in the fifth was possible because of a grounder misplayed by second baseman Brian Dozier, who somehow wasn't charged with an error.
"I know they gave it a hit, but this is the big leagues, folks," Gardenhire said. "That's an error. That's two steps to his right."
NOTES: The second game included a 12-minute rain delay. ... Minnesota CF Aaron Hicks left the nightcap with a strained left hamstring after running to first on a groundout in the fifth inning. ... Twins RHP Ryan Pressley left the first game in the seventh inning with a sore right triceps. "He should be just fine," Gardenhire said. ... Kobernus made his first major league start in the opener and got his first career hit, an infield single in the third.