Quick Links

A demoralizing meltdown for Nats

757794.png

A demoralizing meltdown for Nats

PITTSBURGH -- Henry Rodriguez's "stuff" -- his triple-digit fastball and knee-buckling slider -- is as good as any repertoire in baseball.

"Stuff," though doesn't always translate into success. Especially when it comes to protecting a one-run lead in the ninth inning. As much as everyone would like to believe pitching is pitching, no matter the situation, decades of evidence have suggested there are some relievers who simply can't handle the pressure of closing a big-league game.

Whether Rodriguez falls into that category remains to be seen. He's been handed the ball in a save situation in the ninth inning only 10 times in his career, successfully preserving the win on eight occasions. That's not enough of a sample size to draw any conclusive resolutions.

This much we do know: Rodriguez is an all-or-nothing reliever. When he's on, he's as good as anyone in the game. When he's off, hide the women and children.

Better yet, hide everyone, because it would have been darn near impossible for anyone with a rooting interest in the Nationals to watch Rodriguez's ninth-inning meltdown Tuesday night, resulting in a soul-crushing, 5-4 loss to the Pirates.

"Tough loss," said Adam LaRoche, who for about five minutes figured to be the hero of an uplifting victory. "Tough loss, man."

Rodriguez's second blown save in his last three opportunities was a product of two things: 1) His inability to throw a slider the full 60 feet, 6 inches, and 2) His subsequent need to rely on a fastball with the game on the line and everyone inside PNC Park knowing it.

The trouble began with one out in the ninth, when Alex Presley singled to left-center. Even so, Rodriguez jumped ahead of Yamaico Navarro 0-2 and needed just one more pitch to record the second out of the inning. Instead, he bounced an 84 mph slider in the dirt, and catcher Wilson Ramos was unable to keep the ball in front of him. Presley advanced to second on the wild pitch.

"He was in 0-2 counts, had to throw something in the ground and tried to get the hitters to swing at a bad pitch," Ramos said. "But, you know, it's hard to block those pitches. Sometimes you try to block the ball, and sometimes it hits off whatever side of my body and you run to the other side."

The count now 1-2, Ramos again called for a slider. And Rodriguez again bounced it in the dirt, the ball nearly skipping all the way into the Pittsburgh dugout. Presley took third base on Rodriguez's major-league-leading sixth wild pitch (five of them having come in his two blown saves).

"He tried to be too perfect," backup catcher Jesus Flores said, interpreting for Rodriguez. "He missed the spot and he tried too hard, but he just missed the location where he wanted to."

Rodriguez did rebound to strike out Navarro on a 99 mph fastball at the letter, but he still needed one more out to secure the win. The problem: With the tying run now at third, another slider in the dirt would spell disaster. So Rodriguez knew he had to start off Pittsburgh's Rod Barajas with a fastball.

"After seeing those two breaking balls in the dirt, chances were he wasn't going to throw that again," said Barajas, who stepped to the plate with a .127 batting average and zero home runs. "I'm a fastball hitter, and I wasn't going to let one go by."

He sure didn't. Though Rodriguez's first pitch was up and in, it registered a mere 96 mph, down a few ticks from every other fastball he threw in the inning. And Barajas destroyed it, launching the ball into the left-field bleachers for a walk-off, two-run homer.

"Definitely he was looking for the fastball," Rodriguez said through Flores.

"He's been so good with both pitches, there's no sense in not using one," said manager Davey Johnson, who added he'll stick with Rodriguez as his closer. "That's just part of maturing into a quality closer. Probably trying to make both pitches too good, trying to throw them too hard instead of just locating with something on it. He'll learn from that."

The evening's storyline had been set up perfectly, with LaRoche delivering a two-run homer off Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan in the top of the ninth to give the Nationals a 4-3 lead. LaRoche's blast -- the 1,000th home run in Nationals history -- capped a fantastic return from a sore oblique for the veteran first baseman, who went 2-for-3 with a single and a walk to go along with the homer.

In the end, though, the LaRoche home run was an afterthought as the Nationals lost yet another nip-and-tuck game on the road. They're now 8-0 in one-run games at home, 1-6 in one-run games away from Nationals Park.

And those one-run losses sting even more when they come about via a walk-off homer against a young reliever pressed into closing duties after two guys ahead of him on the depth chart succumbed to injury.

"I feel terrible for Henry," LaRoche said. "He wants to win as badly as anybody. Being able to throw 100 and having the guy run into it, it's frustrating."

Quick Links

Even Tanner Roark can't stop Nats' struggles against Orioles

Even Tanner Roark can't stop Nats' struggles against Orioles

The Nationals may need to lobby for a new partner in Major League Baseball's annual regional rivalry matchup.

Because the Baltimore Orioles just keep having their way with their neighbors from the south. With the Nats' 10-8 loss on Wednesday night, they are now 6-17 against the Orioles since the start 2012 and have lost six straight going back to last year. 

Baltimore has been good over the last five years, but so have the Nationals. For some reason they match up poorly against the O's, no matter what direction each team is trending when they take the field.

The Orioles, for instance, had lost five of six and and nine of 14 before hosting the Nats in the opener on Monday night. The Nats weren't exactly on fire heading into Monday, but they had won six of nine and just took three of four at the Atlanta Braves. 

Even on Wednesday, with the Nats heading home and sending Tanner Roark to the mound, their luck did not improve. Roark has been their most consistent pitcher all year, their stopper at times. The Orioles, though, chased him after five innings with five runs - four earned - on seven hits, three walks and three hit batters, tying a career-high for Roark.

The walks and hit batters were a good indication that Roark was simply not his usual self. He was trying to pitch around the Orioles' big bats and ended up costing himself.

“Just lack of focus," Roark said. "I know I needed to get inside on these guys and make them feel uncomfortable at the plate. They have the most home runs in all of baseball so you got to make it known that your going to come inside. That’s the name of the game for pitching and as a starter you have to establish inside."

That he did not and the Orioles pounded him early. The first big strike was a two-run homer by Manny Machado, his 29th of the season. Another run came home when Matt Wieters was hit with the bases loaded. One more scored on a J.J. Hardy sacrifice fly.

Machado blasted a 92 mile per hour two-seamer - Roark's signature pitch - deep into the stands in left field. Afterwards, Roark explained the challenge of facing Machado, who is now 27-for-69 (.391) with four homers and 12 RBI in 17 career games vs. the Nationals.

“He can hit the ball all over the field. He’s a good hitter. Like any good hitter you got to make him feel uncomfortable. I didn’t do that the first two at-bats," Roark said.

The second at-bat for Machado also brought in a run, one of his four RBI on the night. That was a single to center field in the second inning to score Adam Jones, who reached on an error. That run went down as unearned for Roark one of two errors for the Nats on the night.

Machado was the main culprit in what amounted to a rare off-night for Roark. It was just the fifth time in 26 starts this year he hasn't gone at least six innings. He's gone at least seven in 15 of those outings.

The Orioles win a lot of games behind their offense, but their bullpen is also a big part of their equation. Though Parker Bridwell and Zach Britton ended up making matters interesting by allowing five runs in the ninth, Orioles relievers got numerous key outs on Wednesday to hold the Nats at bay.

Mychal Givens got three straight outs in the sixth after the Nats got two men in scoring position to lead off the frame. He struck out Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman and also got Wilson Ramos to pop out. Givens got into some trouble in the seventh, but Donnie Hart struck out Bryce Harper with runners on the corners to end the frame.

Zimmerman explained what made Givens - one of Baltimore's best relievers - so tough.

“He throws sidearm 97. It seems like all the guys they have throw like that. I don’t know where they get them from. But he made good pitches," Zimmerman said.

The Nationals will now hope to avoid a four-game sweep in the season series on Thursday night with Max Scherzer on the mound. Scherzer is an ace and would seemingly give the Nats a good chance to end their skid against the Orioles. Then again, the same could have been said about Roark before Wednesday night.

[RELATED: Olympian Katie Ledecky visits Nats Park, players enthralled with medals]

SCROLL DOWN FOR MORE NATIONALS STORIES

Quick Links

Nats can't complete rally as they drop third straight to Orioles

Nats can't complete rally as they drop third straight to Orioles

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 10-8 loss to the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday night at Nats Park.

How it happened: It appears the Nationals won’t be earning regional bragging right this year.

After dropping two games to the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards, the Nats were hoping for some home cooking as the series headed to D.C. They didn’t get it. Instead, they dropped their third straight to the Birds, and fourth overall.

What made Wednesday night particularly disappointing was the uncharacteristic performance of Tanner Roark, who entered the game as perhaps the Nats’ most consistent starting pitcher. From the very first batter, it was apparent the 29-year-old right hander didn’t look like himself. He allowed six of the first seven hitters to reach base, yielding a first-inning four-spot that was highlighted by Manny Machado’s two-run home run.   

The Nats countered with a run of their own in the bottom of the inning, but the Birds reestablished their four-run lead on a Machado RBI single in the second inning to make it 5-1.

From there, Roark settled down a bit, stretching an otherwise laborious outing to five innings. In the meantime, the Nats weren’t able to get to Orioles starter Wade Miley, who limited Washington to one run over five-plus innings.  

The Nats clawed back with a run in the fifth and another in the seventh, but Baltimore did enough to keep the game out of reach. Machado struck again in the eighth inning, tacking on an insurance run with an RBI single to extend the Orioles lead to 6-3. A few batters later, Matt Wieters delivered what looked like finishing blow as he drilled a three-run shot to center field to make it 10-3. 

But the Nats wouldn’t go down without a fight. After a ninth-inning grand slam by Daniel Murphy, Anthony Rendon soon followed with an RBI double against Orioles closer Zach Britton. However, with two men on for Ryan Zimmerman, Britton induced the game-ending double play.

What it means: The Nats losing skid is now at four, which combined with the Miami Marlins’ win Wednesday night means their NL East lead is down to seven games.

Roark struggles: To put Wednesday night’s uneven outing in perspective, consider this: Roark had allowed four runs combined over his last three starts — and he yielded that many in the first inning alone. His command was clearly off, which is never a good thing against an Orioles lineup that is known to score in bunches. In all, he allowed five runs (four earned) on seven hits over five innings while throwing 111 pitches. That’s not a typical Roark start, putting extra stress on an already-taxed bullpen.  

Turner’s historic streak: To watch a Nats game these days is to wonder what Trea Turner will do next. The 23-year-old rookie speedster has done nothing but impress in his first taste of everyday action in the big leagues. And on this night, he etched his name into the franchise record books. Turner notched his eighth hit in his as many at-bats over the last two games, which tied Dmitri Young and Andre Dawson for the Nationals/Expos record. Not bad. Not bad at all. 

Up next: The Nats will look to avoid a four-game sweep at the hands of their Beltway rivals in Thursday night’s series finale. They'll send ace Max Scherzer (13-7, 3.05 ERA) to the mound, who will be opposed by Ubaldo Jimenez (5-10, 6.94 ERA).

Quick Links

Trea Turner ties franchise mark with hits in consecutive plate appearances

Trea Turner ties franchise mark with hits in consecutive plate appearances

Trea Turner may be a rookie, but there is no stopping him right now.

The 23-year-old tied a Nationals/Expos franchise record on Wednesday night by landing a hit for the eighth consective plate appearance. He set a career-high with four hits on Tuesday at Camden Yards and carried that over with four hits in his first four at-bats on Wednesday.

That tied Dmitri Young, who had hits in eight straight PAs in 2007 to set a Nationals record, and Andre Dawson, who did the same for the Expos in 1983. 

The MLB record, by the way, is 12. Walt Dropo did that in 1952 for the Detroit Tigers. The NL record is 10, set by Andre Ethier of the Dodgers in 2012.

All four of Turner's hits on Wednesday were singles. One of them was on a bunt in the third off Orioles starter Wade Miley.

Turner also made a highlight reel catch in the first inning to rob Adam Jones of a would-be double. Turner is killing it in the field and at the plate. One could argue he is the Nats' most complete player at this very moment, despite them boasting several stars and a first-place record.

[RELATED: Olympian Katie Ledecky visits Nats Park, players enthralled with medals]

SCROLL DOWN FOR MORE NATIONALS STORIES