Bullpen goes wild in Nats' loss to Rockies

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Bullpen goes wild in Nats' loss to Rockies

Win number 50 will have to wait for the Washington Nationals as uncharacteristic mistakes made late by their bullpen doomed another solid start by Jordan Zimmermann. The Colorado Rockies send the Nats into the All-Star break with 4-3 loss determined by two wild pitches to bring the tying and winning runs home.

Zimmermann took the no-decision after allowing just one earned run, three hits and two walks in seven innings pitched. His only run allowed came on a Wil Nieves sacrifice fly in the second inning.

I really hate for it to come on Zimmermann, Zimm pitched a gem. It was hot out there and he gave a jewel out there, a heck of a game. It was one of the few times the bullpen hadnt done a good job, manager Davey Johnson said.

Theyve been doing a great job all year. Theyve been having our backs in some tight situations all year, Zimmermann said. This one got away. We gotta move past it and focus on the second half.

Johnson took Zimmermann out after the seventh inning even though he had thrown only 95 pitches. The Nats skipper said he didnt even consider bringing his starter back for the eighth because of the heat and humidity.

Johnson decided to go with Sean Burnett to start the eighth inning, one of his best relievers who entered the day with a 1.52 ERA. Burnett was not his usual self, however, and failed to record an out before being replaced.

The Rockies sent Eric Young in to pinch-hit for pitcher Eric Belisle against Burnett and the result was not good. Young took a 2-1 sinker over the fence in left field for a solo home run.

Burnett then allowed consecutive singles to Dexter Fowler and Marco Scutaro, the second moving Fowler into scoring position at third. Johnson pulled Burnett for Michael Gonzalez who has also maintained a sub-2.00 ERA this season. Gonzalez struck out the first batter, but let a pitch get away from him with Tyler Colvin up. The wild pitch brought Fowler home and tied the game at three.

Just wasnt my day. I threw I think it was a sinker to the guy Young and it just cut. I think I pulled it middle-in and he didnt miss it, Burnett said. Then I got a couple ground balls and they just happened to find a hole. Just one of those things it didnt go my way today.

Tyler Clippard came into to pitch the ninth in a tie game having not allowed a run in 20 straight appearances. He last gave up one up on May 16, a stretch of 19.1 innings pitched. Today was not Clippards day either as his first pitch was a double by Jordan Pacheco to left field. Jonathan Herrera then sacrificed Pacheco to third with a bunt as Jason Giambi came to the plate to pinch-hit. Clippard pulled a changeup against Giambi that got away from catcher Jhonatan Solano and Pacheco came home to score the go-ahead run.

I cant remember the last time I threw a wild pitch, so it was kind of frustrating to do it in that situation, Clippard said. What are you gonna go?

The Nationals put up a fight in the bottom of the ninth by getting two runners on base. Ian Desmond, who had hit a two-run home run earlier in the fourth inning, led off with a single to left field. Roger Bernadina then draw a walk two batters later and both players got into scoring position by way of a double steal. Johnson pinch-hit catcher Jesus Flores who could was quickly retired with a three-pitch strikeout.

It was an unfortunate ending for the Nationals who have grown accustomed to stingy relief pitching and timely hitting at the end of games. The mood around the locker room, however, was that losing their final game before the break could be a blessing in disguise.

Everything happens for a reason in this game. The ball never lies. This is a lesson. Hopefully we can come back and bounce back against the Marlins in a big division series, Desmond said.

I look at it as good timing. You know, I think you dont ever want to get too comfortable or too confident out there so this is a little, maybe, check, for ourselves. We can kind of regroup and move forward with a new beginning in the second half, Clippard said.

Nationals keep rolling against Royals, win fourth straight

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Nationals keep rolling against Royals, win fourth straight

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 2-0 win over the Kansas City Royals on Monday night at Kauffman Stadium: 

How it happened: After getting swept by the Phillies to close their most recent homestand, Nationals manager Dusty Baker called this Midwest road trip a good barometer for where they stand in the early part of this season. He, and many of his players, saw this road swing as a test, knowing they had yet to face one of baseball's best teams.

Four days later and the bar may need to be raised a little higher for these Nationals, as after sweeping the Cardinals in St. Louis, they opened their series at the defending champion Kansas City Royals with a convincing 2-0 victory on Monday night. Their brand of score early and let their pitching staff take it from there worked wonders once again.

Gio Gonzalez continued his career-best start to a season with six scoreless frames, Ryan Zimmerman and Daniel Murphy notched first-inning RBI and the Nats' bullpen held on to push the Nats to club record 18-7 on the season through 25 games.

What it means: The 'they haven't beaten anyone' knock on the 2016 Nats can officially be put to rest. The Nationals are now 4-0 on this road trip, having first swept a 100-win team from a year ago in the Cardinals, to now opening this series against the reigning champs with a win. 

Gio keeps on rolling: Gonzalez battled a high pitch count early, but recovered to give the Nats six scoreless innings on four hits and two walks. Gio now has a 1.15 ERA through five starts this season, going at least six innings in each of those outings. The Nats rotation as a whole has held a 0.92 mark with 34 strikeouts and 10 walks in their last six starts as a group. 

Zim comes up big: Zimmerman has been in quite the skid lately, finishing the month of April hitting .219/.301/.301 with just one hit in his last four games (13 ABs). Zimmerman had been showing positive signs, including the highest average exit velocity on the Nats through the weekend. And on Monday, he came through with a big hit in the first inning, an RBI double to right field to give the Nats an early lead. It was Zim's first RBI since April 26. The Nats have now scored 32 of their 101 total runs this season in the first inning. Zimmerman also smacked a ground-rule double in the ninth inning for just his fourth multi-hit game in 20 games this season.

Harper finally gets a hit: Harper's slump recent slump continued through his first two plate appearances on Monday, as Harper struck out and flew out to make it 16 at-bats without a hit dating back to last Thursday. Harper would finally get one, though, on a bloop single to left field to lead off the top of the sixth inning. Harper broke his slump, but he was quickly thrown out trying to steal second by Royals catcher Lorenzo Cain. He also now has only two hits in his last six games.

Murphy gets No. 1000: Murphy had another solid day at the plate on Monday with three hits and an RBI on a groundout in the first inning. His second hit was No. 1000 for his career. It was a double to center field in the sixth inning and it gave Murphy his 12th multi-hit game in 24 total appearances this season. Only three times this year has he been held hitless. Murphy, by the way, is the 10th player ever to record their 1000th career hit in a Nats uniform. Denard Span was the last in September of 2014.

Up next: The Nats continue their series at the Royals with another 8:15 p.m. start on Tuesday night. Tanner Roark (2-2, 2.03) and former Nats minor leaguer Chris Young (1-4, 6.12) are the starters.

Nats begin series at World Series-champion Kansas City Royals

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Nats begin series at World Series-champion Kansas City Royals

Nats (17-7) vs. Royals (13-11) at Kauffman Stadium

The Nationals rolled through St. Louis this weekend to secure their first sweep of the Cardinals since 2007. It was an impressive series against a team that led baseball with 100 wins last year. And now, on Monday night, they will face another of MLB's most talented clubs.

The Nats begin a three-game set with the defending champion Kansas City Royals with an 8:15 p.m. first pitch. Gio Gonzalez (1-1, 1.42) and right-hander Edinson Volquez (3-1, 3.34) are the scheduled starters.

Gio is pitching his fifth game of the 2016 season and is off to the best start of his career. The Nats' southpaw is holding opponents to a .196 average and .489 OPS. The Royals, though, will be his biggest challenge to date.

Gonzalez will pitch to Jose Lobaton per usual, though Wilson Ramos is back from the bereavement list. The rest of the Nats' lineup is as expected with Stephen Drew in there as the designated hitter.

First pitch: 8:15 p.m.
TV: MASN
Radio: 106.7 The Fan
Starting pitchers: Nats - Gio Gonzalez vs. Royals - Edinson Volquez

NATS

CF Michael Taylor
3B Anthony Rendon
RF Bryce Harper
1B Ryan Zimmerman
2B Daniel Murphy
LF Jayson Werth
DH Stephen Drew
C Jose Lobaton
SS Danny Espinosa
(LHP Gio Gonzalez)

ROYALS

SS Alcides Escobar
CF Lorenzo Cain
1B Eric Hosmer
DH Kendrys Morales
LF Alex Gordon
C Salvador Perez
2B Omar Infante
3B Christian Colon
RF Paulo Orlando
(RHP Edinson Volquez)

Follow along with GameView here.

Baker had his team rub a former player's ears for good luck vs. Cards

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Baker had his team rub a former player's ears for good luck vs. Cards

You're going to lobe this story. Wait, sorry, you're going to love this story.

Before the Nationals' weekend series against the Cardinals that started on Friday, a former player and current pal of Dusty Baker named Kirk Rueter stopped by to say hello. It was there when things took a turn for the weird, according to USA TODAY Sports' Bob Nightengale.

As a pitcher under Baker with the Giants, Rueter apparently developed a reputation for having incredibly good fortune. With that in mind,  Baker — whose team had just been swept at home by the Phillies — wanted to take advantage of his penchant for luck.

So he had his buddy walk through Washington's clubhouse and told his roster to rub his ears.

Yes, this is a thing that happened.

The bizarre superstition, of course, seemed to work, considering the Nats took all three games from St. Louis, an organization that has given them fits before. Next up is a four-game tilt in Kansas City. Rueter better bring his ears. 

MORE NATIONALS: WHY NATS PITCHERS THROWING MORE PITCHES ISN'T WORRISOME