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Nats swing and miss again

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Nats swing and miss again

PITTSBURGH -- Rarely in his 10-plus months on the job has Davey Johnson expressed the kind of frustration that came pouring out of the Nationals manager's office at PNC Park Wednesday night following a 4-2 loss to the Pirates.

"You've got to make contact," he said. "You can't drive a run in without making contact."

Generally upbeat and positive throughout his tenure with the Nationals, and always the first to give public and private votes of confidence to his players during good times and bad times, Johnson was as upset with his team's performance in this game as he's been on any previous occasion.

Can you blame the 69-year-old skipper after watching his lineup strike out 11 times -- all swings and misses, no called third strikes -- against a quintet of Pirates relievers pressed into service when starter Erik Bedard departed after throwing only eight pitches due to back spasms?

"Sometimes we expand and chase balls early in the count, and we just can't do that," Johnson said. "That's not being a good hitter. We had so many chances. I thought, two or three times, just a little bloop here and we'll win this ballgame. It's just not coming."

There was no singular corner of the clubhouse to place blame on for this one. Poor at-bats came from just about everyone in the lineup. But the final two innings perhaps best exemplified the problem.

Cut to the top of the eighth, with the Nationals trailing 3-2 but threatening after loading the bases with one out. Up stepped Danny Espinosa, the slumping second baseman who did come through the previous inning with a double to left, ultimately scoring on Chad Tracy's sacrifice fly.

This time, Espinosa swung and missed at a 3-2 fastball from right-hander Jason Grilli, stranded the bases loaded on his NL-leading 39th strikeout of the season.

Moments later, Rick Ankiel swung and missed at a 1-2 fastball at his eyelids, killing the potential rally in a pattern that has become all too familiar for the Nationals.

"I wouldn't necessarily say it's a pattern," hitting coach Rick Eckstein said. "I'd say at times it manifests itself. The pressure builds because I believe in a lineup that's best when each guy knows that the guy behind him can do the job. So then you can be patient and be a little more aggressive in your zones, not expanding. And if they want to walk you, pitch around you, whatever, the next guy picks up the load. And at times when that's happened, we just haven't taken advantage of the next guy picking up that load."

Similar events unfolded in the ninth, with closer Joel Hanrahan putting himself in a jam after hitting Steve Lombardozzi in the foot and then serving up a one-out double to Ian Desmond. That left the tying run in scoring position for two of the Nationals' best hitters (Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman) but neither was able to produce with the game on the line.

Harper, who did draw a fourth-inning walk to reach base for the ninth time in 10 big-league games, fell behind to Hanrahan 0-2 and then popped out to the shortstop. Zimmerman, who did double in the eighth, then whiffed at a 3-2 fastball for his third strikeout of the night.

"I worked the count," Zimmerman said. "I got a pitch I could hit. I just didn't hit it."

Though Johnson and Eckstein both preach an aggressive approach at the plate and encourage their hitters to swing with force, both acknowledge more players need to shorten their strokes in certain situations, especially with two strikes.

When it comes down to it, I think we have to get better with two strikes," Zimmerman said. "No matter who it is, we've got to shorten up a little bit maybe, especially in those situations with one out and runners in scoring position. I'm not saying anyone in particular. We've all been, unfortunately, guilty of it sometimes this year."

Johnson said he wasn't prepared to talk about any possible lineup changes -- "I'm getting over this one before I think about tomorrow" -- but it wouldn't be surprising if Espinosa is given Thursday's series finale off and Lombardozzi is given a chance to make only his second start of the season at second base.

If nothing else, Johnson could justify the swap as an attempt to get his team to put more balls in play. Espinosa is striking out in 31.7 percent of his plate appearances this season, the highest rate among all qualifying NL hitters. The two players on the Nationals' roster with the lowest strikeout rate: Harper (9.5 percent) and Lombardozzi (7.0 percent).

Of course, the Nationals' offensive woes aren't confined solely to strikeouts. They've now totaled five or fewer hits in an astounding 11 of 30 games this season.

"I don't know if guys are feeling too much pressure because we're having trouble generating runs but, boy," Johnson said. "Guys, the pitcher's in a jam. Just relax, and if he throws it over, hit it.

"But tonight was especially frustrating. No doubt about it."

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Scherzer, Turner keep rolling in Nats win, Espinosa heating up?

Scherzer, Turner keep rolling in Nats win, Espinosa heating up?

Notes and observations from the Nats' 3-2 win over the Phillies on Tuesday night at Citizens Bank Park…

Scherzer again flirts with a no-no: It's a stat that just keeps getting more amazing the more we watch Max Scherzer go to work as a Washington National. Tuesday night was the ninth time in 61 starts since he signed with the Nats that Scherzer has taken a no-hitter into the sixth inning. That's 15 percent of his starts, which - not surprisingly - is more than any other pitcher in baseball. Scherzer is so locked in when he takes the mound that it often takes opposing teams five full innings to figure him out.

Scherzer was perfect through 4 1/3 innings on Tuesday before Cameron Rupp drew a walk in the fifth. And he didn't allow a hit until Freddy Galvis doubled to begin the bottom of the sixth. Scherzer ended up allowing a two-run homer to Ryan Howard, but he made it eight innings and only gave up three hits and that one walk to Rupp. Scherzer struck out 11 batters and now holds a Nationals record for most double-digit strikeout games in one season with 12. 

Scherzer stumbled a bit in consecutive starts in the middle of August when he gave up eight earned runs in 10 1/3 innings against the Rockies and Braves. But in two outings since, Scherzer has allowed just two runs across 16 innings with 21 strikeouts and one walk. He now holds a 2.89 ERA across 190 total innings pitched this season. And since his seven-run start at Wrigley on May 6, Scherzer has a 2.39 ERA in 21 starts with a .531 opponents' OPS.

Turner does his thing: It has become a common sight for Trea Turner to not just get on base in every game, but often to record at least two hits. He had two singles on Tuesday to record his 21st multi-hit game of the year in 43 total outings, 41 of them starts. If Turner is in the starting lineup, he is more likely than not to have at least two hits. And with 45 hits in August, he's just two away from the franchise record for hits in one calendar month. The odds he gets there on Wednesday night would seem to be good.

Turner has now reached base in 20 straight games. Only one other Nats rookie - Danny Espinosa - has accomplished that in team history. But it's not just getting on base that makes Turner special, of course. He got another steal in the 3-2 win and now has 18 on the year. That tied Bryce Harper's rookie record for a single season set back in 2012. Again, Turner has played in just 43 games.

Espinosa getting hot?: Don't look now, but Espinosa might be quietly heating up. The Nats shortstop had another solid game on Tuesday with two hits and a walk. He's now batting .355 (11-for-31) in his last nine games with a 1.009 OPS during that stretch. It's a small sample size, of course, but that's a positive sign for a guy who in 45 games since July 6 has hit just .191/.294/.268. This is quite easily the most consistent two-week stretch that he's had in months.

Harper gets on again: It's now 17 games since Harper has been back and he just keeps getting on base. He's reached in all of those outings and on Tuesday landed an RBI double in the first inning and later scored on a Wilson Ramos single. Harper continues to be on a tear since he got back from his neck injury. That was his 18th RBI and his seventh double since his return.

[RELATED: Turner on playing like a little kid, rest helped Ramos]

SCROLL DOWN FOR MORE NATIONALS STORIES

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Scherzer dominant as Nationals edge Phillies 3-2

Scherzer dominant as Nationals edge Phillies 3-2

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- For most pitchers, flirting with a no-hitter might be one of the most memorable days of your career. For Max Scherzer, it was just another day at the office.

Scherzer didn't allow a hit until the sixth inning and he was dominant through eight as the Washington Nationals continued their mastery of the Philadelphia Phillies with a 3-2 victory Tuesday night.

Scherzer (15-7) allowed three hits and struck out 11 while walking one. He was perfect through the first four innings, striking out five consecutive batters - all swinging - between the second and third innings.

He has taken a no-hitter into the sixth in nine of his 61 all-time starts with the Nationals, and has allowed just five total hits in his last two outings.

"Hey man, I mean that's why he's Max," Washington manager Dusty Baker said. "You know we had a good chance to win when Max pitches, and there's a good chance of him going deep in the game."

Ryan Howard, who got the start despite being 1 for 18 with 11 strikeouts against Scherzer coming in, hit an opposite-field two-run home run in the seventh inning to break up the shutout and pull the Phillies within 3-2.

But Scherzer closed the door from there, striking out three more in the seventh and eighth en route to his 15th win of the season.

"I knew I was throwing the ball well, I knew I had all the pitches working, I knew I could go out there and keep different looks going multiple times throughout the lineup and really sequence guys right," Scherzer said. "When I'm able to throw all my pitches for strikes it really allows (catcher Wilson Ramos) to do his job back there and come up with the right sequence."

Mark Melancon pitched a scoreless ninth for his 37th save, getting a strikeout and inducing a big game-ending double play after issuing a leadoff walk.

Freddy Galvis and Odubel Herrera collected the only other hits for the Phillies, who have lost six of eight to fall 12 games below .500. They have dropped their last eight games to first-place Washington, which matches the team record for consecutive losses vs. the Nationals/Expos franchise.

"We need to improve our plate discipline," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "We're just not getting hits. But Scherzer was dominant, you've got to give him credit. He's a tough cookie."

Scherzer, who pitched two no-hitters last season, didn't allow a runner to reach base until Phillies catcher Cameron Rupp walked with one out in the fifth. Galvis ripped a double to right-field to lead off the sixth to break up Scherzer's no-hit bid, but was picked off second base by Scherzer to end the scoring threat.

The Washington ace also had a sacrifice-bunt RBI in the fourth after Ryan Zimmerman walked and Danny Espinosa ripped a single.

The Nationals staked Scherzer to an early lead in the first inning. With two outs and nobody on, Daniel Murphy doubled before scoring on a double by Bryce Harper, his 19th RBI in the last 19 games. Ramos brought Harper home with an RBI single to put the Nats ahead 2-0.

"He can smell it," Baker said. "When he gets some runs, it's usually a shutdown inning. He doesn't give it right back. It usually takes a while for them to score off of Max."

Phillies starter Jerad Eickhoff (9-13), who walked just six batters in his last eight starts coming in, issued three walks and allowed five hits and three earned runs through six innings.

Scherzer's double-digit strikeout game was the 12th of the season, setting a Nationals record. He improved his career record to 7-1 against the Phillies, including a 6-0 mark since he joined the Nats in 2015.

HOWARD'S STILL GOT POP

Howard's homer was the 20th of the season and the 377th of his career, tying him with Jeff Kent and Norm Cash for 73rd on MLB's all-time list. His next home run will tie him with Matt Williams for 72nd place.

He has 10 career 20-homer seasons, the second most in Phillies history behind only Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt (14).

HOME-PLATE COLLISION

The fourth inning ended when Espinosa was thrown out at the plate on a dart from Phillies right fielder Aaron Altherr. On the play, Espinosa collided with Rupp at home, which seemed to anger some Phillies.

Afterwards, Mackanin admitted that "he didn't think he had to bowl him over," but Howard laughed that Rupp probably "liked it" and "that's baseball."

OWNING PHILLY

The Nationals, who opened their six-game road trip with a 4-0 victory over the Phillies on Monday, are 7-1 at Citizens Bank Park this season.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Phillies: Peter Bourjos missed his second straight game after getting hit in the left wrist by a pitch Sunday.

UP NEXT

The Phillies and Nationals wrap up their three-game series Wednesday night with Philadelphia LHP Adam Morgan (1-8, 6.50) opposing LHP Gio Gonzalez (9-9, 4.25).

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Scherzer starts as Nats look to keep rolling at Phillies

Scherzer starts as Nats look to keep rolling at Phillies

Nats (76-55) at Phillies (60-71) at Citizens Bank Park

After bouncing back with a 4-0 victory in the series opener, the Nats look to keep it going in Philly on Tuesday night with ace Max Scherzer on the mound.

Scherzer, who is 14-7 with a 2.92 ERA, tossed eight shutout innings against the Orioles his last time out. He last saw the Phillies on June 1 at CBP and gave up two runs in eight innings of work.

Ryan Zimmerman is back in there at first base after taking Monday off. The rest of the Nats lineup is the same.

First pitch: 7:05 p.m.
TV: CBS-9, MASN2
Radio: 106.7 The Fan
Starting pitchers: Nats - Max Scherzer vs. Phillies - Jerad Eickhoff

NATS

CF Trea Turner
LF Jayson Werth
2B Daniel Murphy
RF Bryce Harper
3B Anthony Rendon
C Wilson Ramos
1B Ryan Zimmerman
SS Danny Espinosa
RHP Max Scherzer

PHILLIES

TBA
RHP Jerad Eickhoff

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