The Washington Nationals are scuffling. No, that would imply some measure of success. They flat-out aren’t hitting at all right now, as they managed just five runs total in three games against the St. Louis Cardinals in a three-game sweep, completed by a 4-2 loss Wednesday at Nationals Park before 33,694.
Looking to halt a three-game losing streak — and five straight at home — Nats ace Stephen Strasburg gave the Nats a quality outing in the bright sunshine. But right now, Nats pitchers have to be perfect to give the team a chance to succeed and he was not that. With the loss, the Nats drop below .500 (10-11) for the first time since 2011.
The Cards did their damage to Strasburg in the first before the big guy was able to settle in. Matt Carpenter led off with a double on a soft line drive. After Allen Craig struck out, Matt Holliday flipped a pitch to right for a single. Strasburg lost Carlos Beltran on five pitches to load the bases, and Yadier Molina delivered the “big” blow, a bloop single to right to plate two. Beltran scored when the next batter, Daniel Descalso, grounded to third baseman Anthony Rendon and the rookie made a trhowing error trying to get the force at second base to ignite a double play.
Strasburg settled in after that, mowing through the Cardinals lineup for the next six innings. The Nats ace did not give up another run and infact, never pitched into trouble again. He retired 19 of the last 20 hitters he faced to keep the Nats in the game. Strasburg’s final line was solid: 7.0 IP, 3 ER, 5 H, 1 BB, 7 K, 110-76; but with the way the Nats are hitting these days, it wasn’t nearly enough.
The Nats pushed one run across in the sixth off a tiring Jaime Garcia, but they wasted a couple big opportunities to get back into the game. Strasburg led off with a single up the middle, Denard Span followed and did the same. Jayson Werth tapped back to the picher to move the runners two second and third with one out. Bryce Harper (0-for-4) grounded to second to bring in Strasburg to break up the shutout. Tyler Moore then coaxed a walk from Garcia to put runners on the corners.
St. Louis manager Mike Matheny then lifted Garcia in favor of reliever Joe Kelly, to face Ian Demsond. Kelly fed Desmond a steady diet of outside pitches until Desmond swung through a curveball to end the inning.
The Nats got Kelly in trouble the following inning but could not capitalize. Anthony Rendon and Jhonatan Solato both hit one-out singles, putting runners on the corner. Nats manager Davey Johnson pinch-hit Steve Lombardozzi for Strasburg. Kelly served Lombardozzi three straight balls to set up a great opportunity, but Kelly was able to work the count full. Johnson then put on the hit-and-run, but Lombo swung through a two-seam fastball and the catcher running was out by 10 feet to kill the rally.
Drew Storen continued his early-season struggles, allowing a run in the eighth on three base hits.
The Nats cut the lead back to two on a Jayson Werth solo home run int he bottom of the eighth, but Trevor Rosenthal came back to overmatch Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond, striking both batters out on three pitches — all fastballs.
THE GOOD: Strasburg. Once he got past his first inning jitters, he was the same old Steven Strasburg. He’s gotta figure out how to avoid those long first innings.
THE BAD: Danny Espinosa. 0-for-4, K. Average down to .155 and OBP less than .200. Nah, a torn rotator cuff has nothing to do with it.
THE UGLY: Adam LaRoche. I know he only got one at bat, but he looked as lost as he has all season. Swung at three pitches, late on everything. Just looked completely overmatched against the hard-throwing Rosenthal.
THE STATS: 7 hits, 2 BBs, 7 Ks. 0-for-7 with RISP, 6 LOB. E: Rendon (2, throw), two DPs.
NEXT GAME: Thursday against the Cincinnati Reds at 7:05 pm. Gio Gonzalez (1-1, 5.85) hosts Bronson Arroyo (2-1, 3.54).