Nationals stuck in neutral after another loss

Nationals stuck in neutral after another loss
June 29, 2013, 6:15 pm
Share This Post

Nats' bats stagnant in loss to Mets

NEW YORK — Only 15 hours removed from what their manager called their "biggest win of the year," the Nationals emerged from the dugout at Citi Field again, handed the ball to a promising rookie hurler for his big-league debut, prepared to take their hacks against a struggling right-hander with an inflated ERA and perhaps finally get themselves on the sustained roll that has eluded them all season.

What transpired was an all-too-familiar sight for this team. No offense, combined with bad defense and inconsistent pitching, produced another uninspiring loss, this time by a 5-1 count to the Mets that felt like so many other losses that preceded it over the last three months.

"You can't explain it," Davey Johnson said. "It was an uplifting game last night, and today was a downer."

One step forward, one step backward. That about sums up 2013 so far for the Nationals, who have only one game remaining in the season's first half and find themselves right where they've been nearly the entire time: Back at square one.

They're 40-40, the 18th time this season they've sat at exactly the .500 mark. They haven't ranged three games better or three games worse since May 18, a full six-week stretch now of mediocrity in its purest form.

Positive momentum? The Nationals seem to be proving there is no such thing.

"It just kind of shows you that each game is completely individual, and it doesn't really matter," Ryan Zimmerman said. "I think last night's win was great, but that doesn't really get us anything today. We all came in today ready to play, just like we did yesterday. That's how you have to look at each day."

Zimmerman was front-and-center in both games here in Flushing, the star of Friday night's 6-4 victory thanks to his three-run double in the eighth, then one of the goats of today's loss thanks to a pair of fielding errors, each leading to a run.

Twice in successive innings, Marlon Byrd rapped sharp grounders to third base, and in each case Zimmerman booted the ball for an error. Neither was a particularly easy play, but the former Gold Glove winner made no excuses.

"They're plays that I should make, but just unfortunate, kind of tough plays," said Zimmerman, who has now been charged with 13 errors, one behind the MLB lead. "I feel bad."

Zimmerman's second gaffe was made even worse by teammate Ian Desmond, who retrieved the errant ball and tried to make an off-balance throw back to third base to catch Daniel Murphy napping. But that heave ricocheted off Murphy and into foul territory, allowing him to score.

"I think that one just didn't work out," said Desmond, who has now committed errors on back-to-back days after a 59-game error-less streak. "If it doesn't hit his body, the ball just sits there and nothing happens. But unfortunately it just hit off his leg or whatever and rolled away. But, yeah, I think given the opportunity again, I'd probably try it again. If there's a chance to get an out there, I want to help the kid out."

The kid Desmond referred to, Taylor Jordan, was a victim of poor support in his major-league debut. The 24-year-old right-hander, summoned from Class AA Harrisburg to replace the injured Dan Haren in the Nationals' rotation, showed some grit in his first career start, escaping jams in the first and fourth innings.

Jordan, though, struggled with fastball command all afternoon and was pulled by Johnson with one out in the fifth when things were threatening to spiral out of control.

"He battled out of a tough situation and pitched good," Johnson said. "We didn't help him much, putting him in a jam. But I thought he pitched well."

Jordan, a young man of few words, took the positives out of his MLB debut.

"I wasn't as nervous as I thought I was going to be," he said. "Just had a lot of trouble commanding my fastball, for the most part. Wished I would've threw more strikes."

A ninth-round draft pick in 2009 who grew up 15 minutes from the Nationals' spring training complex in Viera, Fla., Jordan overcame Tommy John surgery two years ago and burst onto the scene this season, going 7-1 with an 0.83 ERA at Class AA Harrisburg. Even so, he admittedly never expected to reach the big leagues this soon.

"No, this exceeded even my high goals," he said. "So it's unreal."

Jordan had three milestone balls at his locker: his first career pitch, his first career strikeout and his first career hit (a fifth-inning single to center). He probably would have traded them all for a different milestone ball, though: his first career win.

That will have to wait for another day, because the Nationals' lineup was once again shut down by Dillon Gee, a pedestrian right-hander against the rest of baseball (3-7, 5.55 ERA) but a Cy Young contender against the Nats (3-0, 0.96 this season).

"No offense, this is no knock on him," Desmond said. "But I think it's more us, maybe being a little too aggressive or not aggressive enough. One of the two."

As has been the case so often this season, the Nationals simply have no explanation for what ails them.

The season is about to hit the halfway point, and the World Series contender remains stuck in neutral.