In perhaps the Washington Nationals’ (34-34) most frustrating display of offensive insufficiency this season, the Cleveland Indians (34-34) took the interleague series rubber game 2-0 at Progressive Field Sunday afternoon.
Bypassing any minor league rehab assignments, Stephen Strasburg (L, 3-6) allowed just one run on one hit in his first appearance off the disabled list, showing no evidence of lingering back pain.
Strasburg’s sole run allowed came in the bottom of the fourth after Jason Kipnis drew a one-out walk and stole second, only to advance to third on a throwing error by Jhonatan Solano. In the next at-bat, Carlos Santana singled Kipnis home to position Strasburg for the not-so-deserved loss.
On paper, the Nationals should have come away with the win. They out-hit the Indians seven to four and seemed to decipher Corey Kluber’s pitching regimen. Eleven times, the Nationals had a runner in scoring position – and in three separate innings, they had at least one runner in scoring position before an out was recorded.
To top it off, the Indians handed the Nats opportunities on a silver platter, but the once-again .500 team failed to cash in.
The first gift to Washington came in the fourth after Anthony Rendon’s leadoff single. Ryan Zimmerman lined a four-seam fastball to third baseman John McDonald in the next at-bat, whose throwing error gave the Nats runners at the corners with no outs. Much to Natstown’s dismay, Kluber struck out the next three batters in order to avoid a jam.
In the sixth inning, Denard Span singled and took second on an error by first baseman Mark Reynolds. Rendon followed with a single himself before Zimmerman struck out swinging and Adam LaRoche batted into an inning-ending double play.
In the seventh, Jayson Werth doubled before Ian Desmond got drilled in his lower back with a pitch to put runners on first and second once more with no outs. Steve Lombardozzi chopped a bunt shy of the mound that could have – and should have – resulted in at least two outs on the play, but instead, the ball deflected off Kluber to keep everyone safe.
There may be no better indicator of the Nationals’ frustrations than when Solano lined into an unassisted double play to seemingly kill the Nats’ momentum. Roger Bernadina followed up with a groundout to shortstop Mike Aviles to end the inning without a runner coming home.
To add salt to the wounds, Michael Bourn doubled and scored on a Kipnis sacrifice fly in the bottom of the eighth to give a rather unnecessary insurance run to the bottom half of the scoreboard.
THE GOOD: Stephen Strasburg looked healthy – if only just shy of brilliant – in his return off the disabled list. He tallied 82 pitches – and four walks – in just five innings pitched but prevented the Indians from making significant contact.
Also noteworthy was Anthony Rendon’s performance. The 23-year-old went 3-for-4 with a double on a day when only one other National – Jayson Werth – had more than one hit Sunday.
THE BAD: 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position and seven runners stranded on base – against the Cleveland Indians, no less – is pretty terrible.
THE UGLY: In the sixth inning, Denard Span fouled a ball off his right foot – yet again – Sunday afternoon. He grimaced in pain but remained in the game. He went on to single and take second on Mark Reynolds’s throwing error, and may have scored on Anthony Rendon’s single had he not been in pain.
THE STATS: 7 H, 1 BB, 8 K, 2-for-11 RISP, 7 LOB
NEXT GAME: Monday, 7:05 p.m. at Philadelphia Phillies – RHP Dan Haren (4-8, 5.70) vs. former National LHP John Lannan (0-1, 6.14)