Nats fail to execute in 2-1 loss

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Nats fail to execute in 2-1 loss

They'd been in this situation plenty of times already this season, locked into a tense, low-scoring affair that would be decided by one big hit.

"We've played a million one-run games," Ryan Zimmerman said. "So it's not really anything big."

And yet after watching the Nationals fail at the plate on several occasions during Friday night's 2-1, 11-inning loss to the Orioles, it would be easy to question whether this lineup was getting caught up in the moment and trying too hard to make something happen.

There were just too many instances of poor execution, whether in the form of fouled-off bunt attempts, a botched hit-and-run or watching strike three whisk by right down the heart of the plate to think otherwise.

"We get in that situation, and we get a little over-anxious," manager Davey Johnson said. "Just trying too hard, the way I figure it, and not letting them come to us."

The opener of the most-anticipated Battle of the Beltways since the series commenced in 2006 lived up to the hype, with an energetic crowd of 36,680 on hand. Two upper-division clubs that have enjoyed success this season behind stellar pitching got a couple more dominant performances from their hurlers, with Baltimore's Jake Arrieta allowing one run over seven innings and Washington's Edwin Jackson doing his counterpart one better and making it through the eighth.

Ultimately, Nick Markakis' towering homer off Ryan Mattheus in the top of the 11th -- it struck the facing of the second deck down the right-field line -- decided this one, a tough blow for a Nationals pitching staff that had hung on all night to that point.

"I made a bad pitch," Mattheus said of his 2-2 slider down and in to Markakis. "He's a good hitter, and that's what good hitters do with bad pitches."

Mattheus, though, might never have found himself in that situation had the Nationals lineup managed to push across just one more run at any point during the previous 10 innings.

They didn't have many opportunities against Arrieta and four Orioles relievers, but what opportunities they did have were mostly squandered. Only Ian Desmond's solo homer in the sixth resulted in a run for the home team.

The Nationals went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position. They weren't much better with a man on first base, either.

Such was the case in the bottom of the fifth, when Johnson called for a hit-and-run with Jackson at the plate and slow-footed catcher Jesus Flores on first. Jackson whiffed at Arrieta's pitch, and Matt Wieters easily gunned down Flores to kill that potential rally.

Was Jackson surprised to get the hit-and-run sign in that situation?

"Not really," the right-hander insisted. "The managers that I've played for, they've been pretty aggressive, especially Arizona's Kirk Gibson and St. Louis' Tony LaRussa. If a pitcher can halfway handle the bat, they'll put the hit-and-run on."

The poor execution continued in the seventh, when Bryce Harper led off with a single and Johnson decided to ask Danny Espinosa to bunt the rookie over to second base. Except Espinosa took one pitch for a strike, then twice bunted foul, sent back to the dugout after the final one.

"You try and you work on it every day as far as bunting, and sometimes it's not the easiest thing in the world to do," Espinosa said. "I know everyone thinks it is, but when you've got a guy throwing hard and the ball comes up and in, you want to bunt it. At the same time, you're trying to just protect yourself and move, and you foul it off."

By the time the bottom of the 11th rolled around, the Nationals were trailing and facing their last chance. They did give themselves a chance, though. Pinch-hitter Steve Lombardozzi was plunked by Orioles reliever Pedro Strop to begin the inning, only to be wiped out on Desmond's double-play grounder.

Now down to their final out, the Nationals still had one last-ditch shot when Roger Bernadina struck out on a pitch that wound up at the backstop and reached on the wild pitch. Zimmerman followed with a single up the middle, putting the tying runner in scoring position for cleanup hitter Adam LaRoche.

LaRoche has been the Nationals' most-productive, and most-consistent hitter, but he capped off perhaps his worst night of the season when he weakly tapped the ball back to the mound for the game's final out, completing an 0-for-5 night in which he never hit the ball out of the infield.

"We had chances," Johnson said. "And then our inability to get a bunt down, and bunting bad pitches ... a game like that's frustrating. We don't have to try to force on the execution of a bunt.

"That was a tough one. We pitched good. I thought the bullpen pitched good. One pitch, ballgame."

VIDEO: Carlin walks off over 'contract year' argument with Brian Mitchell

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VIDEO: Carlin walks off over 'contract year' argument with Brian Mitchell

Watch the full exchange from SportsTalk Live in the video player above, which will begin momentarily.

Stephen Strasburg is off to a strong start with the Washington Nationals as he sets the foundation for how much his next contract will be worth. 

That became a point of contention Wednesday night on SportsTalk Live when co-host Rob Carlin brought up the idea that, if Strasburg indeed finishes strong, the Nationals will need to discern whether this is the start of a sustainable uptick in production or the product of a contract year. 

Brian Mitchell took exception to that entire notion, saying that it is illogical to think that players play better simply because they are in a contract year. 

The argument evolved from there until Carlin couldn't take it anymore -- and walked off the set. Watch the exchange above.

Revere expected to return to Nationals for series vs. Cubs

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Revere expected to return to Nationals for series vs. Cubs

By DAVE SKRETTA

TRAINER'S ROOM:

OF Ben Revere (right oblique strain) will join the Nationals in Chicago on Thursday and be evaluated before being activated. He played nine innings in centerfield for Triple-A Syracuse in his fifth rehab game on Tuesday.

Nationals blow out Royals to continue strong road trip

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Nationals blow out Royals to continue strong road trip

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 13-2 win over the Kansas City Royals on Wednesday afternoon at Kauffman Stadium: 

How it happened: After letting Tuesday night’s game slip out of their hands, the Nationals wasted no time on Wednesday afterrnoon making sure the series finale at Kansas City was theirs right from the jump. The Nats exploded in the first inning with six runs off Royals starter Kris Medlen and never looked back, cruising to a 13-2 blowout victory to move to 19-8 on the season to match the 1979 Expos for the best start in franchise history. They also matched the best 27-game record for a D.C.-based team, tying the 1925 and 1932 Senators.

Daniel Murphy and Bryce Harper homered, Ryan Zimmerman had three hits and Daniel Murphy had four to tie a career-high. Stephen Strasburg went six innings with just two runs allowed on five hits and a walk. He moved to 5-0 on the season and now holds a 2.36 ERA through six starts. 

What it means: The Nationals recovered well from their disappointing loss on Tuesday night just in time for a huge series at the Cubs. The Nats now hold some positive momentum as they prepare to face the team with the best record in baseball. The Cubs and Nats will battle in what is about as exciting a series you can find this early in the season. And whatever happensin those four games, the Nats will finish this supposedly scary road trip with at least a .500 record after winning on Wednesday.

Another huge first inning: The Nationals once again got off to a blazing start in the first inning, this time putting up six runs off Medlen. Amazingly, five of those runs came across before Medlen even recorded an out. Harper and Jayson Werth had RBI singles, Zimmerman and Murphy had RBI doubles and Clint Robinson added a sacrifice fly in the frame. The Nationals have scored 32.5 percent (39 of 120) of their total runs this season in the first inning.

Harper has big day: Harper had been in a major slump lately with multiple strikeouts in three consecutive games and just one hit in his previous five outings. On Wednesday, Harper had two hits including his 10th homer of the season, a solo shot to right field in the fifth inning. It was Harper’s first multi-hit game since April 23.

Zim continues to heat up: For the third straight day, Zimmerman posted a multi-hit game. On Wednesday, it was a season-best three hits including his first inning RBI double. Zimmerman is now batting .264 on the season and is 7-of-14 in the month of May. 

Murphy’s career day: Murphy homered for the second straight day, but that was just a small part of what was overall one of the best games of his entire MLB career. He matched a career-high with four hits, had three RBI and scored a career-best four runs. Murphy now has hits in 23 of his 26 games this season with multiple hits in 13 of those outings. He was a triple short of a cycle in the win.

Up next: The Nats move on to Chicago to begin a four-game series at the Cubs. The opener is an 8:05 p.m. ET first pitch at Wrigley with Joe Ross (3-0, 0.79) and Kyle Hendricks (1-2, 3.52) set to start.