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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."

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Nats option Giolito, Taylor to make room for Zimmerman and Solis

Nats option Giolito, Taylor to make room for Zimmerman and Solis

Less than 90 minutes after their 10-6 loss to the San Diego Padres, the Nationals wasted no time in making a pair of roster moves to pave the way for the expected returns of first baseman Ryan Zimmerman and reliever Sammy Solis from the disabled list.

The two casualties were starter Lucas Giolito, who struggled earlier in the day in his third MLB appearance, and outfielder Michael Taylor, who went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in the loss. Both were optioned to Triple-A Syracuse.

Zimmerman and Solis are expected to return to the Nationals on Tuesday when they play at the Cleveland Indians. The Nats are off Monday before they begin an 11-day, nine-game road trip with stops also in San Francisco and Arizona.

Zimmerman will rejoin the Nats after rehabbing from a left rib cage strain. He has been on the disabled list since July 7. He went 5-for-12 with a homer and five RBI in three minor league rehab games with the Single-A Potomac Nationals.

Solis has been on the DL since July 8 with right knee inflammation. He pitched two rehab games, one with Potomac and one with Single-A Hagerstown. Solis gave up one run on a homer in his two total innings of work.

Giolito goes back down to Triple-A after making one start with the Nats. He allowed four runs, two of them earned, in 3 2/3 innings against San Diego. Giolito has given up six earned runs in 11 total big league innings this season.

Taylor also returns to Syracuse. He was called up on July 8 when Zimmerman was placed on the DL. Taylor is hitting .222 with seven homers and 14 RBI in 66 games this season.

With Zimmerman back in the infield, Trea Turner is expected to be the odd man out. That could mean a return to the Nats' bench, or an experiment with him in center field. Turner began learning the position several weeks ago by playing six games at center in Triple-A. With Taylor now out of the mix, he could be at the very least the team's backup option at the position.

Whether they will start him there soon, though, is hard to tell. 

"I got to get Zim back in the lineup. He’s a big part of our offense," manager Dusty Baker said. "We just got to try to find a place with Zim coming back, find a place for [Turner] to play."

"I did it in Syracuse and I'll do it here if they need me to," Turner said of playing center.

"It's something that I've embraced. It's something that I'll do if they need me to."

[RELATED: Aaron Barrett suffers major setback in TJ recovery]

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Baker wonders if fatigue played role in Papelbon's collapse vs. Padres

Baker wonders if fatigue played role in Papelbon's collapse vs. Padres

Sunday was not a banner day for a Nationals bullpen that has for the most part exceeded expectations this season.

First, setup man Shawn Kelley - who has been reliable for most of this year - allowed two solo home runs in the top of the eighth. That vanished a two-run lead for the Nats, allowing the Padres to tie it at 6-6.

Then, in the ninth inning it was Jonathan Papelbon, who hadn't allowed a run in eight straight outings since returning from the DL. His luck run out with a four-run frame, one that sunk the Nats with a 10-6 deficit.

That Kelley-Papelbon combination looked mighty good just one night before against the same team. But they couldn't close the deal in a game the Nationals held a two-run advantage entering the eighth inning.

Both pitchers blamed location for their problems. Manager Dusty Baker, though, offered one theory for Papelbon.

"I don’t like to make excuses, but I don’t like to use my closer three days in a row. And this was three days in a row for Pap," he said. "But we didn’t have a choice. The ball wasn’t coming out today the way it had been since he came back from the injury."

Papelbon shot down the premise that he was running out of gas.

"No, I was not tired," he said matter of factly.

It was, to be fair, just the second time this season he's been used for three straight days.

For Papelbon, his trouble started with a one-out walk to Wil Myers. From there, Yangervis Solarte landed an RBI single, and Alex Dickerson and Ryan Schimpf then singled to load the bases. That set up a bases-clearing double by Alexei Ramirez to end Papelbon's day.

The closer, soaked in sweat on a 96-degree day, walked slowly off the mound and to the dugout to a cascade of boos from Nationals fans. It was his first uneven outing in a while, but it was an ugly one and the crowd let him hear all about it.

"It boiled down to location. Coming in there in a situation where we've gotta preserve everything we can, every pitch matters in that situation," Papelbon said.

Kelley's homers were hit by Dickerson and Schimpf. Both players took advantage of similar mistakes.

"Just two pitches that weren't up enough," Kelley said. "Both balls were on the corners in the right direction, I just wanted them a few balls higher. I just didn't get them there. I was just looking at them and talking to some people. They were not bad pitches, but to those two guys, they like the ball in those spots. Just gotta be better right off the bat and execute better with the heater."

Kelley and Papelbon have both enjoyed solid seasons and have formed an above average late-innings duo. But that may not stop the Nationals from pulling off an aggressive move before the trade deadline. They have already shown strong interest in Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman and seem intent on adding at least something to their relief corps.

How Kelley and Papelbon will be affected is unclear. It will depend, of course, on what caliber pitcher they acquire, if they choose to bring one in.

For now, however, the Nats bullpen is focused on bouncing back Tuesday when the team travels to Cleveland to play the first-place Indians.

"We come out and whip their butts. That's what we do," Kelley said. This is a great team. We've got a resilient bullpen. A little blip today, but we'll be right back out there on Tuesday."

[RELATED: Aaron Barrett suffers major setback in TJ recovery]

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Ken Griffey Jr. wears impressive suit to Hall of Fame induction

Ken Griffey Jr. wears impressive suit to Hall of Fame induction

Ken Griffey Jr. was inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame Sunday. If there was a suit Hall of Fame, Griffey's getup for the occasion would be first-ballot worthy. 

HOF 2016

A photo posted by Ken Griffey Jr (@therealkengriffeyjr) on

Check out the pinstripes on the jacket. If you look closely, you'll see they read "Hall of Fame Class of 2016."

Now examine the tie. There's the outline of Griffey, backwards hat and all, taking a swing in the gold pattern. 

That hat made another appearance in Cooperstown Sunday. 

The look Junior made famous. #HOFWKND

A video posted by MLB ⚾ (@mlb) on

What else would you expect from the Kid?