The Nationals let another game slip away on Saturday afternoon and suddenly a frustrating first two months to the 2013 season is looking a lot worse.
A homestand against a pair of sub-.500 teams has turned into a debacle with two losses, two rainouts and a win that took a ninth-inning rally. Against starting pitchers Jeremy Hefner, Dillon Gee and – on Saturday – Kevin Correia, Washington has managed four runs in 20 1/3 innings. Those aren’t exactly Hall-of-Fame names there. Nothing better illustrates the Nats’ quiet bats.
Correia held Washington to eight hits scattered over 6 1/3 innings in a 4-3 win for the Minnesota Twins that took 11 innings. It didn’t help that the Nats allowed an unearned run thanks to an Adam LaRoche error in the fifth inning. The first baseman now has five errors on the year. He had seven all last season and said afterwards that he gave the game to the Twins.
That extra run helped the Twins take a 3-2 lead. And while Washington rallied to score on a generous double awarded to catcher Kurt Suzuki on an infield chopper that scooted under the glove of shortstop Pedro Florimon, it couldn’t push across the go-ahead run. And so in the 11th – after putting the leadoff man on for the fourth frame in a row – Minnesota finally took advantage with an RBI single by Ryan Doumit off reliever Craig Stammen.
“That was a tough one. Very frustrating,” Nats manager Davey Johnson said. “It’s getting my dander up. We’re better than this. It seems like when we play like this we’re just lackadaisical. But I’ll have a chat with them tomorrow.”
Washington fell to 29-31 and is now a season-worst two games under .500. With a 9-game road trip looming after Sunday’s doubleheader against Minnesota, the time to recover is quickly slipping away. The Nats haven’t topped three runs in a game since May 29 at Baltimore – and they lost that game anyway. That’s a lot of pressure to put on your defense and your starting pitching.
“We had the walk-off [Monday against New York] and I thought that was gonna get us rolling,” LaRoche said. “Come right back out and give up 10, score one and then today…we got some hits, but didn’t string them together. We need to start getting those three or four in an inning, pushing some guys across. Not able to do it. Doesn’t help. Gotta play defense.”
Gonzalez had a strong game. But he also needed 114 pitches to get through six innings, allowing two earned runs. He struck out seven, but walked four. Washington used seven relievers until the bullpen finally cracked. Stammen walked the leadoff batter, pinch hitter Chris Herrmann, watched Jamey Carroll bunt the runner to second and then walked Joe Mauer on purpose. That was probably prudent. But Doumit came through with the RBI single and Washington’s luck ran out.
Nats reliever Tyler Clippard escaped a jam in the eighth when he stopped a line drive from Florimon with his right hand. After the game X-rays proved negative, according to Clippard. He recovered on the play to throw out Florimon at first base by a step.
Injuries are a part of this. Bryce Harper is headed to see Dr. James Andrews on Monday – though the swelling in his left knee has subsided a bit, Johnson said on Saturday – and ace pitcher Stephen Strasburg is also on the 15-day disabled list. Strasburg did throw a bullpen session on Saturday, which was his first time on a mound since sustaining a strained right lat muscle on May 31 in Atlanta. That went well, Johnson said, and the team hopes Strasburg will be ready to come off the disabled list on June 16.
One more bit of good news? Ross Detwiler (strained right oblique) made a rehab start on Saturday at Single-A Potomac. He faced 18 batters and appeared to come through that game fine physically with one run allowed on seven hits in 3 2/3 innings. He would be in line to start on Thursday in Colorado. Harper is eligible to come off the disabled list on June 11, but that is extremely unlikely now.
“It’s tough to gain momentum. We had a couple rainouts the last few days. We’re just trying to play our best every day with what we got right now,” Clippard said. “It’s the middle of the season, it’s a long season, and these types of things happen to every big-league club. Everyone goes through injuries. That’s just the nature of a season like we have. We just have to keep grinding, keep playing our best and and the wins will come. Just gotta get through these times.”
Follow me on Twitter @bmcnally14