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Nats' offensive issues being exposed


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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Gio Gonzalez leads Nats to 6th straight win with 3-1 victory against Mets

Gio Gonzalez leads Nats to 6th straight win with 3-1 victory against Mets

NEW YORK -- Gio Gonzalez pitched no-hit ball into the sixth inning to win again at Citi Field and the Washington Nationals beat the New York Mets 3-1 on a drizzly Saturday for their sixth straight victory.

Gonzalez (2-0) gave up two singles in 6 1/3 innings. The lefty improved to 9-1 lifetime on the Mets' home field.

Still missing injured slugger Yoenis Cespedes and other starters, New York has lost seven of eight.

Koda Glover, the fourth Washington pitcher, completed the combined two-hitter by getting the last out for his first big league save.

Jacob deGrom (0-1) struck out 10 and walked six in 5 2/3 innings -- he matched a career high by fanning 13 in his last start. He was supposed to pitch Friday night, but was scratched with a stiff neck after sleeping on it wrong. Mets pitchers fanned 15 in all.

Trea Turner returned to the Nationals' starting lineup from a strained right hamstring and hit an RBI double. A day after being activated from the disabled list, he hustled home on Ryan Zimmerman's single for a 3-0 lead in the fifth. Turner got two hits and reached on an error.

Gonzalez struck out six and walked three in the 10th straight quality start by Washington pitchers. He worked around a pair of walks in the first, then retired 13 batters in a row until walking pinch hitter Jose Reyes to begin the sixth.

Juan Lagares followed with a sharp single up the middle for the Mets' first hit. It was his 15th career hit off Gonzalez, more than anyone's gotten against the lefty.

Asdrubal Cabrera made it 3-1 with an RBI single, but Gonzalez escaped further trouble by striking out Jay Bruce and Neil Walker.

Matt Wieters put Washington ahead with a single in the fourth that scored Bryce Harper. Daniel Murphy also tried to scoot home, but the throw beat him by a lot and he did a brief tango on the dirt around the plate before catcher Rene Rivera tagged him.

Murphy singled twice and ended his 0-for-14 skid. Harper, who began the day with a major league-leading .407 average, walked three times and struck out twice.

Both teams made nifty catches.

Left fielder Adam Eaton rushed in for a sliding grab on Rivera's liner in the fifth. The next inning, Mets right fielder Curtis Granderson angled into the alley for a diving, backhand stab on Michael Taylor's drive.


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Nationals win fifth in a row as Harper powers Nats past Mets

Nationals win fifth in a row as Harper powers Nats past Mets

NEW YORK -- Bryce Harper got off to a loud start, tagging a longtime nemesis. Way later, he enjoyed another trot home.

Harper homered early, then doubled and scored the go-ahead run in the 11th inning on a bases-loaded walk by Jeurys Familia, sending the Washington Nationals over the ailing New York Mets 4-3 Friday night for their fifth straight win.

"I think every game against them means a lot," Harper said.

This was the first of 19 meetings this season between the teams that have traded the NL East title the last three years.

"That would've been a big win for them," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. "It didn't take you long to see they were banged up and in trouble.

On a foggy night, Familia again had trouble finding the strike zone. He forced home a run with a walk to Trea Turner as the Mets lost for the sixth time in seven games. New York fell to 1-3 in extra innings early this season.

Star outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and catcher Travis d'Arnaud didn't start for the Mets because of injuries, on the same day they put first baseman Lucas Duda and infielder Wilmer Flores on the disabled list.

Plus, Matt Harvey wound up pitching when scheduled starter Jacob deGrom was scratched with a stiff neck. The Mets employed pitcher Zack Wheeler to pinch hit -- he doubled -- and another starter, Robert Gsellman, to pinch run.

"You've got to play with what you have, and I think we're doing the best we can right now," Harvey said.

Harper hit his seventh homer, lining a two-run drive in the first. He was 1 for 26 in his career against Harvey before connecting.

Did Harper think the law of averages was on his side?

"Never know," he said. "Might get dominated your whole life by one guy."

Harper is doing the dominating now. Bouncing back from a down year, the 2015 NL MVP is 12 for 19 (.632) with five home runs, four doubles and 12 RBIs in his last five games.

Harper used his legs to set up the tiebreaking tally.

The Nationals, the top-hitting team in the major leagues, hadn't gotten a hit since Jose Lobaton's leadoff homer in the fifth when Harper sliced a one-out double in the 11th.

After Daniel Murphy was intentionally walked by Josh Smoker (0-1), Familia relieved. On Thursday night, Familia -- who led the majors with 51 saves last year -- made his season debut after a 15-game domestic violence suspension and labored through 30 pitches, walking two.

This time, he bounced a wild pitch to Anthony Rendon and Harper hustled into third, the safe call standing up on replay. Rendon wound up walking on a full-count pitch and Turner, activated from the disabled list before the game, walked on four pitches.

"This isn't a perfect world where you can pick the perfect spot," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "He just didn't throw the ball over the plate, which is very uncharacteristic for him."

Enny Romero (1-0) got the win, and Shawn Kelley earned his third save.

Mets leadoff man Michael Conforto homered on Tanner Roark's first pitch of the game. Slumping Curtis Granderson hit an RBI single in the fourth and lined his first homer of the season in the sixth, tying it at 3.

Injured outfielder Jayson Werth sat out for Washington, catcher Matt Wieters got a day off and first baseman Ryan Zimmerman entered in the ninth. Murphy was back in the lineup after missing a game with tightness in his right leg.

Harvey pitched four-hit ball for seven innings. He hit Wilmer Difo, the second batter of the game, in the helmet with a 94 mph fastball. Difo stayed in, and Harper followed with his home run.