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Nats' offensive issues being exposed

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Nats' offensive issues being exposed

LOS ANGELES -- Bryce Harper strode to the plate late this afternoon, the shadows starting to creep onto the emerald green field at Dodger Stadium, and surveyed the situation.

Top of the ninth. Two outs. Man on first. His team trailing 2-0. A hard-throwing right-hander on the mound.

A home run, you know, would've tied the game.

"I was thinking the same thing," Harper said. "I wanted to hit a bomb, for sure."

What does this say about the state of the Nationals' lineup? Their best hope is for a 19-year-old with less than 24 hours of big-league experience to drive one out of the park with two outs in the ninth.

Harper didn't connect off Dodgers reliever Kenley Jansen. He took a couple of mighty hacks, fouled off some tough fastballs, worked the count full and then drew a walk to prolong the Nationals' last-ditch rally.

"I just tried to get something I could drive," he said. "And if I didn't, I was going to draw a walk."

It was a fine at-bat by Harper, certainly given the situation and his lack of experience. Truth be told, though, it left the onus on a teammate (backup catcher Jesus Flores) to come through with the game on the line.

And right now, there aren't many others in the Nationals' lineup swinging the bat well enough to produce in those do-or-die situations.

When Flores swung and missed at Jansen's final offering of the day, a demoralizing 2-0 loss became official and another tepid offensive performance was in the books. Shut out for the first time this season, the Nationals ended this West Coast in frustrating fashion. Over their last four games, all losses, their pitching staff allowed only 11 total runs. Their lineup scored only six.

"We feel terrible," first baseman Adam LaRoche said. "They're going out and doing everything they can possibly do. They've thrown some great games, all of them. We're just not pushing runs across."

There is, of course, a built-in excuse. The Nationals' two best offensive players (Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse) are on the disabled list. And today they were also without Jayson Werth, who was sidelined with a severe migraine headache.

Thus manager Davey Johnson was left to fill out a lineup card that featured Danny Espinosa and his two RBI in the No. 3 spot, Xavier Nady and his .140 average in the 5-hole and brand-new rookies Tyler Moore and Harper in the sixth and seventh positions.

Though they're careful not to use the Zimmerman and Morse injuries as an excuse for their lack of offense ... "that's a big part of it," LaRoche admitted.

"And I think everybody knows that," he continued. "When you've got the middle of your lineup missing, the other team sees it. They know it. It gives them a little more confidence. We all know it. It's going to be a grind. It's going to be tough with some of our big sticks out of there. It'd be nice to get Zim for sure and eventually get Mikey back."

The offensive struggles this week overshadowed several more stellar performances from the Nationals' pitching staff. Gio Gonzalez was the latest victim, suffering a hard-luck loss despite allowing only two runs on three hits, though the left-hander was not as sharp as he had been in previous outings.

Having compiled a team-record, 25-inning scoreless streak on the merits of his pinpoint command, Gonzalez labored to find the strike zone today. He issued five walks, including three in a row during the bottom of the sixth. That set the stage for James Loney to loft a two-run single to center, the hit that produced the afternoon's only runs.

"I kind of beat myself there," Gonzalez said. "I was trying to be too perfect, put my pitches where they were too perfect and it kind of got away from me."

The Nationals actually outhit the Dodgers, 4-3, but two of those hits came from the two recent call-ups: Moore and Harper. Moore, summoned from Class AAA Syracuse earlier in the day when veteran utilityman Mark DeRosa was placed on the 15-day disabled list with an oblique strain, delivered his first career hit with a single to right in the fifth.

"It was good to knock it out of the way and worry about something else now," the 25-year-old slugger said.

Harper, meanwhile, came through with his first hit off a left-hander, singling to right in the seventh to make himself 2-for-6 as a big leaguer.

Throw in a spectacular catch against the center-field fence, and Harper had himself an impressive debut weekend. Not that the 19-year-old phenom was content with the outcome.

"We didn't win two games," he said. "I'm never satisfied about that. Hopefully we can go back to D.C., win a couple games, get on a streak again and get something going."

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Bryce Harper powers Nationals past Diamondbacks

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Bryce Harper powers Nationals past Diamondbacks

PHOENIX -- The newest additions to the Washington bullpen came through when called upon to help deliver a victory to their new team.

Sean Doolittle stranded the potential tying run by escaping a jam for his second save for Washington, and Ryan Madson tossed a scoreless eighth inning as the Nationals held off the Arizona Diamondbacks 4-3 on Saturday night.

"The game can really speed up on you once you start getting guys on base," said Doolittle, who with Madson arrived in a trade with Oakland earlier in the week. "The crowd and the energy of the stadium can kind of take over and ... you have to be mindful enough to step off the mound, slow the game down a bit, kind of press reset."

Bryce Harper homered and drove in two runs, and starting pitcher Tanner Roark struck out a season-high 11. Roark (8-6) gave up two runs and three hits in seven innings for the NL East-leading Nationals.

"Curveball felt good. Just keep the hitter guessing," Roark said.

Harper hit his 25th home run on a full-count offspeed pitch from Anthony Banda (0-1), who lost in his major league debut.

Chris Iannetta hit a two-out RBI double in the bottom half, but the Nationals opened a 4-1 lead with a three-run sixth.

Harper hit a run-scoring double and scored on Ryan Zimmerman's double, and Anthony Rendon beat out an RBI single that sent Zimmerman home.

"They had a young guy out there that throws the ball really hard, has good command. He's going to be really good in the next couple of years for sure," Harper said of Banda. "Just got him this time and got a few runs up there."

A.J. Pollock tripled in the bottom half and scored on Jake Lamb's groundout, and Arizona reliever Jorge De La Rosa got out of bases-loaded trouble in the seventh when he struck out Harper and Zimmerman.

Doolittle, acquired from Oakland last weekend, walked Lamb leading off the ninth. Iannetta hit a broken-bat grounder to third, and Rendon's throw to second went into right field for an error that put runners on the corners.

Paul Goldschmidt hit a sacrifice fly, Chris Owings flied out and Doolittle struck out Ketel Marte for his second save with the Nationals.

"Madson's been great for us. Doolittle ... he never panics. It was great to see. It's a lot of fun to have a back end like that," Harper said.

Banda allowed four runs and seven hits in 5 2/3 innings, struck out five and walked none. He was optioned back to Triple-A Reno after the game.

"I felt confident. I threw the ball in the zone and kept attacking hitters," Banda said. "I made a couple of mistakes, Harper and the middle of the lineup."

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Nationals lose to Diamondbacks in dramatic fashion

Nationals lose to Diamondbacks in dramatic fashion

PHOENIX -- Three straight homers off Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer in the first inning had the Arizona Diamondbacks set up for an easy Major League Baseball victory over the NL East leaders.

Instead, they needed Brandon Drury's bases-loaded single in the bottom of the ninth for a 6-5 victory Friday night.

The home runs by David Peralta, A.J. Pollock and Jake Lamb to start their first at-bat helped stake the Diamondbacks to a 5-0 lead against Scherzer.

"We did a great job getting his pitch count up and also putting runs on him," the Diamondbacks' A.J. Pollock said. "Great getting on him early. We would've loved to have (scrapped) a couple of runs in the middle of the game, but the key point is we won the game and we came through in the end."

The first-inning feat was the first in the majors since Baltimore did it against Texas on May 10, 2012. It was the first time in Nationals history (2005 to present) that an opposing team has hit back-to-back-to-back home runs.

The Diamondbacks last hit three straight homers on Aug. 11, 2010, when they had four in a row at Milwaukee.

It was the most runs allowed by Scherzer in a first inning since July 2, 2011, against San Francisco, when he gave up five.

"I had four pitches today. I was using them. They beat me," Scherzer said. "I just couldn't get the ball exactly where I wanted it. When you do that against this type of ballclub and these types of hitters, they are really good and they make you pay."

Scherzer's five runs allowed tied for the most he's given up in a start this season, and the five innings tied for his shortest outing of the season.

Arizona sent nine batters to the plate in the four-run first and the Diamondbacks made it 5-0 in the second on Lamb's RBI double.

Scherzer had allowed just one home run in 34 2/3 innings over five starts before he surrendered the three home runs on his first 10 pitches. The All-Star right-hander and two-time Cy Young Award winner was tagged for three homers in a game for the first time since May 6, 2016, against the Chicago Cubs, when he allowed four.

"I don't think I have ever seen a game starting off with three homers. Max hadn't seen it, either," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said.

Peralta, Pollock and Lamb also each had a double, another historical first for the Diamondbacks.

The Nationals rallied with Daniel Murphy's run-scoring double in the fourth, then added two more runs in the fifth off Diamondbacks starter Zack Godley. A leadoff double for Matt Wieters led to Brian Goodwin's RBI groundout, and Ryan Raburn singled in Wilmer Difo with two outs.

Godley struck out a career high 10 in 5 2/3 innings, and allowed four runs and five hits.

Difo drove in two runs, one to cut the lead to 5-4 in the sixth and the other that tied the game on a groundout to first in the eighth.

The Diamondbacks loaded the bases in the ninth on Pollock's triple and intentional walks to Lamb and Paul Goldschmidt by Enny Romero (2-4). After Gregor Blanco flied out to shallow left, Drury bounced a single into right field for Arizona's third win in four games.