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Heart of Nats' lineup isn't beating

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Heart of Nats' lineup isn't beating

It shouldn't be this way. The only sure things right now in the Nationals' lineup are the two rookies hitting at the top of Davey Johnson's order. The veterans who follow and boast actual track records of success at the big-league level? They're the ones making all the outs.

It's an unusual situation, to say the least, and on Sunday it cost the Nationals a very winnable game against the Braves. Despite the continued success of rookies Steve Lombardozzi and Bryce Harper, the rest of the lineup could do nothing against Tommy Hanson or two Atlanta relievers during a 3-2 loss that dropped the Nats into a first-place tie in the NL East with the Marlins.

"Pretty disheartening," Adam LaRoche said, "the fact we started it up 2-0 in the blink of an eye and couldn't get anything else out of it."

Indeed, many among the crowd of 38,046 had yet to settle into their seats when Lombardozzi and Harper made history by launching home runs on consecutive pitches in the bottom of the first, giving the Nationals an early advantage.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, they are the first rookies in the modern era (since 1900) to hit back-to-back homers to begin a major-league game.

Most everyone in the Nationals dugout was busy congratulating Lombardozzi on the first home run of his career -- after briefly giving him the silent treatment -- when Harper stepped to the plate and drilled Hanson's next pitch into the second deck down the right-field line for his fifth career home run.

"They were kind of messing with me when I walked in the dugout," said Lombardozzi, now hitting .309 with a .372 on-base percentage. "And then once they did get up and high-five me, everybody started yelling and then realized he just went yard. It was pretty cool."

With Gio Gonzalez on the mound in search of his team-leading eighth win, those two early bombs might normally have been enough. In five of 10 previous starts this season, the left-hander allowed fewer than two runs.

But Gonzalez looked out of sorts from the moment he took the mound, and he never found his groove. Unable to keep his fastball over the plate, he put at least one man on base in each of the first four innings and then fell apart in the fifth.

Gonzalez was slow to cover first base on a grounder to the right side. He issued two walks. He uncorked two wild pitches. And though he came within one strike of pitching his way out of the jam, he ultimately was burned by Jason Heyward's bases-loaded, soft single to left, which brought in the tying and go-ahead runs.

Thus, Johnson emerged from the dugout with a surprisingly early hook for the just-named NL Pitcher of the Month. Gonzalez had failed to complete the fifth inning only once before this season (in his April 7 debut in Chicago).

"If I would have attacked the strike zone, it would have been a different situation," Gonzalez said. "But apparently I was a little up and a little out of the zone. Good hitters, good eyes. They made me pay for it."

Even so, the Nationals' bullpen kept the deficit at one run the rest of the afternoon and gave the lineup ample opportunities to push across another run or two. Those runs never materialized, though, in large part because of the inability of the Nationals' most-accomplished hitters to produce in key situations.

Johnson's 3-through-6 hitters in this game (Ryan Zimmerman, LaRoche, Michael Morse and Ian Desmond) went a combined 0-for-16 with five strikeouts.

The club isn't all that concerned about LaRoche, who was among the league's most-productive hitters for six weeks until falling into his recent slide, or Morse, who will need some time to find his swing after missing the season's first two months.

The disturbing one among the group is Zimmerman, who has yet to find a level of consistency since returning from a shoulder injury one month ago. In 38 total games now, the 27-year-old third baseman is batting .233 with a paltry .333 slugging percentage.

To put that into context: The slap-hitting Lombardozzi boasts a slugging percentage 67 points higher than the club's 100 million No. 3 hitter, who insists the problem isn't his shoulder.

"I just stink right now," Zimmerman said. "It's frustrating. It's frustrating. Shoulder is fine. Everything is good. ... It's definitely not what I wanted to do to start this season but I can't do anything about it now. Just gotta keep working hard and continue to grind it out."

The stage was set for Zimmerman to snap out of his funk and deliver one of his biggest hits of the year when Lombardozzi and Harper each drew walks to open the bottom of the eighth. But after battling back from an 0-2 count against Braves left-hander Eric O'Flaherty, Zimmerman rapped a groundball to second, a tailor-made, 4-6-3 double play that killed the rally.

LaRoche followed with a flyout to the warning track in left, ending the inning altogether.

And when Atlanta closer Craig Kimbrel struck out the side in the ninth, a very winnable game was officially a 3-2 loss for a club that is facing some serious questions about the lack of production it's getting from its most experienced hitters.

"I don't think we need to sweat the middle of that lineup," LaRoche said. "I know it needs to happen now, but I think if we continue to stay patient, there's some pretty good hitters in there that are going to figure it out. But it would be nice to be doing it all at once and see what we could really do."

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Nationals set franchise record for runs in an inning, blow out Rockies

Nationals set franchise record for runs in an inning, blow out Rockies

DENVER -- Bryce Harper hit a three-run homer as part of an 11-run seventh inning, Trea Turner enjoyed another big game at Coors Field and the Washington Nationals routed the Colorado Rockies 16-5 on Thursday.

Turner proved to be a pitcher's nightmare throughout the four-game series. He hit for the cycle on Tuesday, finished a triple shy of another cycle Wednesday and added a double and two singles in the finale -- in all, he had nine extra-base hits, scored 10 runs and had 11 RBIs.

Washington finished 9-1 on its road trip, taking three of the last four at Colorado. What's more, the Nationals scored 11 or more runs in three straight games for the first time since July 1986 at Atlanta, when the team was the Montreal Expos.

Leading 4-2, the Nationals broke the game open in the seventh by sending 15 batters to the plate and pounding out eight hits, including Harper's eighth homer.

Gonzalez (3-0) scattered seven hits over 6 2/3 innings to improve to 4-0 all-time against Colorado. He also had a good day at the plate with two RBIs, including a bases-loaded walk in the big seventh.

Rockies rookie Antonio Senzatela (3-1) couldn't find his typical command in surrendering four runs over six innings.

Turner, who came off the disabled list less than a week ago, made himself at home.

"This ballpark, for whatever reason, feels pretty comfortable to me," the second-year player said. "It's fun hitting here."

His teammates felt the same way as every starter had a hit Thursday.

Before the game, Rockies manager Bud Black said he was going to talk to Senzatela about not walking the pitcher, which he termed a "bad sin." Both Tyler Chatwood and German Marquez did just that the previous two games, paving the way to costly innings.

Senzatela didn't walk the pitcher, but reliever Carlos Estevez did in the seventh.

The damaging play, though, was earlier in the inning, when first baseman Mark Reynolds fielded Harper's grounder and instead of stepping on the bag, threw home to get the runner he figured was breaking for home. Only, the runner wasn't going and the throw wound up in the dugout.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Nationals: RHP Stephen Strasburg was reinstated from the paternity list after the birth of his second daughter. Strasburg is scheduled to throw Saturday against the New York Mets.

Rockies: OF Gerardo Parra made a leaping catch in the sixth just before hitting the wall. Parra was shaking his right hand, but stayed in the game.

RESTING SLUGGERS

Nationals infielder Ryan Zimmerman and Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez didn't start. Both had planned rest days, although manager Dusty Baker struggled with the decision with Zimmerman.

"It's hard to rest him because he's hot," Baker said.

THIS & THAT

OF Charlie Blackmon had two hits to extend his hitting streak to 12 games. ... 3B Nolan Arenado hit a solo homer in the first -- about the only mistake Gonzalez made all afternoon.

UP NEXT

Nationals: RHP Max Scherzer (3-1, 1.95 ERA) starts Friday when the Nationals open a three-game series against the New York Mets. Scherzer has 55 strikeouts in his last five games against the Mets, who will throw RHP Jacob deGrom (0-1).

Rockies: LHP Kyle Freeland (2-1, 3.32 ERA) starts Friday at Arizona. The Diamondbacks will throw LHP Robbie Ray (2-0, 3.42).

Related: Nationals place Koda Glover on Disabled List

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Nats' bats remain red-hot in freezing cold Denver

Nats' bats remain red-hot in freezing cold Denver

DENVER  -- Trea Turner nearly hit for the cycle for a second straight night, finishing a triple shy, and Bryce Harper had four more hits to run his average to .432 as the Washington Nationals beat the Colorado Rockies 11-4 on Wednesday.

Turner lined one of three Washington homers, with Ryan Zimmerman and Daniel Murphy also going deep, to help the Nationals improve to 8-1 on their 10-game trip.

Tanner Roark (3-0) worked his way out of several jams to throw five solid innings. He allowed two runs and struck out four.

Never quite settling in on a cool night, Tyler Chatwood (2-3) surrendered five runs in five innings.

RELATED: UPDATED 2017 MLB POWER RANKINGS

Turner followed his cycle the night before with a solo shot in the fifth for his second homer of the season. Zimmerman hit a two-run shot later in the inning to give Washington a 5-0 lead.

Harper kept up his torrid pace at the plate with four hard hits, including a double. It was his fifth four-hit game of his career and third this season.

Roark ran into trouble in the fifth when the Rockies loaded the bases. He walked DJ LeMahieu to force in a run and gave up another run on Nolan Arenado's fielder's choice. With two outs and two on, Roark struck out Carlos Gonzalez with a 77-mph curve. Gonzalez broke his bat on the ground in frustration.

For the second straight night, a two-out walk in the second inning to the pitcher came back to haunt the Rockies. After Chatwood missed on a 3-2 fastball to Roark, Adam Eaton followed with a two-run single.

On Tuesday, German Marquez issued a two-out walk that turned into a five-run frame in a game the Nationals won 15-12. They have taken two of three in the four-game series with Colorado

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