September 1, 2014

Washington Nationals Game 23 Review: Harper’s home debut spoiled by Diamondbacks

Jordan Zimmermann on the mound at Nationals Park, May 1 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

“I keep looking for us to break out. Tomorrow’s another day,” Davey Johnson, on the hitting woes.

In what’s becoming an unfortunate but repeating refrain, the Washington Nationals just couldn’t get anything going against Arizona Diamondbacks starter Trevor Cahill, putting more strain on the pitching staff. Unlike many games this season though, the pitching cracked a little bit. The result was a 5-1 loss in front of a disappointing 22,675 for Bryce Harper’s home debut.

The Nationals have lost five straight, dropping to 14-9 on the season.

Harper finished 0-for-3 with two ground outs and a strikeout and was on deck when the last out of the game was made.

The game cruised through the first four innings, with Nats starter Jordan Zimmermann matching Cahill zero for zero. But in the fifth, an infield single by Arizona first baseman Paul Goldschmidt turned into two bases on Ian Desmond’s third error of the season, a low throw that Adam LaRoche couldn’t handle. After a strikeout, light hitting shortstop John McDonald got one past third baseman Steve Lombardozzi and Goldschmidt scored easily.

The next inning, Justin Upton singled, stole second and scored on Miguel Montero’s double. That’s all the Dbacks needed.

Zimmermann ran into more trouble in the seventh. Back-to-back singles to start the inning set up a sacrifice by Cahill. Zimmermann then walked leadoff hitter Gerardo Parra intentionally. Parra was his last batter.

Ryan Mattheus hit his first batter, 3B Cody Ransom, to force in a run and Upton hit a sacrifice fly to Harper. Replays showed that Harper actually threw out McDonald on the play — on the fly from about 300 feet — but the bang-bang play went to Arizona.

All told, Zimmermann (L, 1-3, 1.89) suffered his worst outing of the young season, allowing four runs (three earned) on eight hits and one walk, striking out six, in 6 1/3 innings.

After the game, manager Davey Johnson talked about the potential for strain on the pitching staff with the hitters struggling so much. “It’s gonna start putting a strain on the pitching staff if we don’t start scoring some runs. You can’t be that fine all the time.”

“[The starters] know that they gotta be pretty good. I think the last five or six games we’ve been averaging about two runs or something. That’s just not gonna cut it.”

“In the last week I think we’ve left a ton of people on base,” Johnson continued. “We’ve probably left more people on base than anybody in the league.” At least percentage-wise, that might be the case.

So far this season, the Nats are seventh in the N.L. is total base runners. Usually, teams drive in around 14 percent of their total base runners. In fact, that number rarely wavers much from season to season. So far, the Nats are driving in just 11 percent of their total base runners. That number should creep back to the normal 14 percent ranges as the sample size grows, but it doesn’t make it any easier while they’re struggling.

THE GOOD: Ian Desmond and Steve Lombardozzi had two hits apiece hitting 1-2 in the order. The Nats managed just two more hits out of the lineup.

THE BAD: Rick Ankiel. 0-for-4, two strikeouts and a rally killing double play.

THE UGLY: After allowing two stolen bases, both of which scored, Wilson Ramos is now 1-for-15 in throwing out would-be base stealers. Davey Johnson said he wasn’t worried about it after the game, saying Ramos had “no chance” on the second one, a theft by Gerardo Parra off reliever Ryan Perry.

THE STATS: 6 hits, 1 BB, 8 Ks. 1-for-7 with RISP, 5 LOB, 1 GIDP. E: Desmond (3)

NEXT GAME: Wednesday at 7:05 against the Diamondbacks. Edwin Jackson (1-1, 3.16) hosts Springfield, VA native Joe Saunders (2-1, 0.90).

See full photo gallery here.

Bryce Harper gave props to fans on his first jog to LF at Nationals Park, May 1 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

 

The first National Anthem for Bryce Harper and Tyler Moore at Nationals Park as Big Leaguers, May 1 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

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