If this is what charging out of the gates in the second half looks like for the Washington Nationals, they may need to quickly re-evaluate how to gain momentum down the stretch.
Friday night’s contest, which marked the opening of the second half of the season and the start of an 11-game homestand, included its fair share of scoring chances against the now 48-47 Los Angeles Dodgers.
As Davey Johnson declared after the game, Stephen Strasburg “pitched one heck of a ballgame.” Aside from a third-inning two-run shot given up to Hanley Ramirez in the third inning, Strasburg was stellar. In seven innings pitched, he gave up the two runs on seven hits, one walk and six strikeouts, throwing 71 of 104 pitches for strikes.
But, the Nats’ offense struggled all night. Washington’s only run to that point was made possible on a Bryce Harper double. Jayson Werth then lined to right field, allowing Yasiel Puig to throw a bullet to third baseman Juan Uribe to catch Harper. Uribe appeared to lay down the tag in time, but Harper was called safe. And, in the next at-bat, the Nats’ phenom came home on a wild pitch by the Dodgers’ Ricky Nolasco.
Nolasco practically asked the Nats to run away with a lead in the fourth. Ryan Zimmerman and Harper hit back-to-back singles before Jayson Werth drew a walk to load the bases with no outs recorded.
But, the rout ended there. Ian Desmond grounded into a force out before Chad Tracy flied out to left and Wilson Ramos chopped one back to the mound – stranding three runners and prolonging the Dodgers’ 2-1 lead.
The Nats finally recorded the tying run in the sixth after Zimmerman led off and Harper struck out chasing an 80 MPH slider. Werth battled back from a 1-2 count to single to left and Desmond batted in Zimmerman with a bloop single to center.
With Werth representing the go-ahead run on second, the Dodgers called upon Jose Dominguez to relieve Nolasco. He did exactly his job, forcing Tracy to ground into a double play to end the inning.
Washington’s bats stayed quiet too long, allowing Rafael Soriano to work the Nats into a hole in the ninth.
In a non-save situation, Soriano threw a hanging slider to Andre Ethier, who crushed it for a solo home run – just enough for the Dodgers to edge out the Nats.
Soriano went on to retire the next three batters, but the Dodgers’ Kenley Jansen retired the bottom third of the Nats order to seal the win for Los Angeles.
THE GOOD: Stephen Strasburg looked like Stephen Strasburg again. Had it not been for one mistake – a hanging fastball to Hanley Ramirez in the third inning – Strasburg could have very well carried a shutout into the seventh inning.
Also worth noting – Ryan Zimmerman, Bryce Harper and Ian Desmond each recorded two hits on the evening. One can hope that lays to rest any worry of a slowdown resulting from the All-Star break.
THE BAD: With the loss, the Nationals are now back at .500 with a 48-48 record, which lands them into third place in the National League East. They remain a half-game behind the Philadelphia Phillies and a whopping seven games behind the first-place Braves.
THE UGLY: The Nats went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position, which included a bases-loaded opportunity with no outs in the fourth.
THE STATS: 2 R, 9 H, 2 BB, 5 K, 1-for-9 RISP, 6 LOB
NEXT GAME: Saturday, 7:05 p.m. vs. Los Angeles Dodgers at Nationals Park – RHP Zack Greinke (8-2, 3.49) vs. Gio Gonzalez (7-3, 3.03)