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One run won't cut it for Nats

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One run won't cut it for Nats

BALTIMORE -- As consistent and as dominant as their pitching staff has been since Opening Day, the Nationals have known all along there will be days when they simply need to score a few more runs and take some of the pressure off those electric arms who take the mound in succession inning after inning, day after day.

That's why Ryan Zimmerman is attempting to play through a nagging shoulder injury, why the veteran third baseman received a pain-killing shot one hour before Sunday's game in what could become a recurring theme for the rest of the season.

Zimmerman knows the Nationals' lineup needs all the help it can get right now, and who better to provide that spark than a two-time Silver Slugger Award winner?

"We need to score more," he said. "That's not in question."

True, Sunday's 2-1 loss to the Orioles was a direct result of Sean Burnett serving up a two-run homer to Matt Wieters in the bottom of the eighth, the first time the left-hander had blown a lead this year.

But the Nationals can ask their typically lights-out bullpen to protect such slim leads only so many times over a full season without accepting the occasional slip-up.

"It's not the easiest thing in the world," Burnett said. "You'd like to have a little bit of leniency. But a 1-run lead, our job is to come in and nail it down. And unfortunately I didn't do that today."

Had Burnett's teammates given him a cushion of even two or maybe three runs instead of one, perhaps the result would have been different. But these days, the Nationals can't count on their lineup producing anything more than the bare minimum on a daily basis.

Over their last nine games, the Nationals have given up 29 runs, a more-than-respectable average of 3.2. But during that same span, they've scored only 23 runs, an paltry average of 2.6. (It's probably no surprise their record in those games was 3-6.)

They had opportunities to add to Sunday's output but went 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position against Baltimore starter Jake Arrieta, who entered with a 5.83 ERA and an AL-leading nine losses.

The lone run-producing hit by a player wearing red and blue in this game? Zimmerman's RBI single in the third, perhaps his most-impressive hit in weeks, given the fact he drove a 95 mph fastball over shortstop J.J. Hardy's head despite the persistent shoulder pain that has afflicted him most of this season.

The difference for Zimmerman? The pain-killing shot that included cortisone and lidocaine and gave the ailing third baseman "relief" for the first time in a long time.

"Obviously, I wasn't performing," he said. "But to go out there today and feel a little bit like I could do the things that I've always been able to do gave me a little bit more confidence and just makes you happier."

Zimmerman wound up with a pair of hits that raised his batting average to .223, a well-stuck fly ball to center field and several highlight-reel plays at third base. That performance -- barely 12 hours after he finally admitted the extent to which his shoulder injury was affecting his swing and suggested he may need to spend time on the disabled list -- left the Nationals feeling better about his long-term prognosis.

Team doctors examined Zimmerman's shoulder Sunday morning and came away with the same diagnosis from two months ago: A sprained AC joint. They found no damage to any tendons or ligaments, only a bone-on-bone situation that's causing the pain.

At some point, preferably in the offseason, Zimmerman could have surgery to clean up the area. Recovery time would be roughly 4-6 weeks. For now, he believes he can continue to play, with the aid of the occasional pain-killing shot.

"I can play through this," he said. "And that's what I plan to do for the rest of the year."

The Nationals can only hope the treatment now only allows Zimmerman to take the field each day but also allows him to rediscover the power stroke that made him such a dangerous hitter through the first six seasons of his big-league career. Even so, a healthy Zimmerman might not be enough to carry a lineup that has scored only 262 runs this season (fourth fewest in the majors).

Sunday's game saw the Nationals get a total of two hits from players not named Zimmerman or Bryce Harper (who singled in the first inning and then hustled to turn a routine base hit to center into a electrifying double in the sixth inning).

That second Harper hit, which drew oohs and aahs from the bipartisan crowd of 41,794 at Camden Yards, put the Nationals in golden position to add to their 1-0 lead. But Zimmerman struck out swinging at a 2-2 breaking ball low and outside. And after Adam LaRoche was intentionally walked, Michael Morse struck out swinging at another 2-2 breaking ball, then Ian Desmond popped out to end the inning.

"I still think we're not ... a lot of hitters are doing some over-aggressiveness," Johnson said. "We're trying to hit the ball out of the ballpark instead of making good swings. But we're getting there."

The silver lining to all this is that the Nationals, in spite of their offensive woes, will hold at least a 2 12-game lead in the NL East come Monday morning. They also just survived what could be the toughest stretch of their season -- 32 consecutive games against only NL East and AL East opponents -- with an 18-14 record.

They also know that while pitching wins championships, a little offense every now and then certainly helps.

"We want to score more runs," Zimmerman said. "I think this whole series kind of shows you how good both of these teams' pitching is. It's not easy to score runs, but we definitely need to do a better job of capitalizing on our opportunities."

Whether Zimmerman's new treatment plan can keep him in the lineup -- and, more importantly, whether he can produce again -- could go a long way toward answering this club's most-pressing question.

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Trea Turner has a career game as Nats clobber Reds

Trea Turner has a career game as Nats clobber Reds

WASHINGTON -- Michael Taylor homered twice among his four hits, Trea Turner finished 5 of 5 with a walk and the Washington Nationals beat the Cincinnati Reds 18-3 on Saturday.

Daniel Murphy had four RBIs for the Nationals. His three-run double highlighted the six-run second inning and Taylor's two-run homer capped a four-run fourth inning. Taylor added a solo shot in the sixth.

Turner, Ryan Zimmerman, Matt Wieters each drove in two runs. All of Turner's career-high five hits were singles including run-scoring hits in the second and eighth.

Washington led 13-0 as Joe Ross (4-3) blanked the Reds until Patrick Kivlehan's pinch-hit home run in the sixth. Ross surrendered one run and six hits over seven innings with five strikeouts and one walk.

In his first appearance since Aug. 28, Homer Bailey (0-1) allowed eight runs and six hits with three walks in 1 2/3 innings.

The Reds, who have lost 13 of 14, also gave up 17 runs on May 29 at Toronto.

Washington took the first two games of the series from the Reds after losing three of four.

Cincinnati activated the 31-year-old Bailey from the disabled list before the game. The right-hander had arthroscopic surgery to remove bone spurs in his right shoulder on Feb. 28.

Washington made Bailey's first outing of the season uncomfortable from the start. After Turner and Brian Goodwin opened the bottom of the first with a single and walk respectively, Zimmerman hit a one-out double into the right-center gap, scoring both runners.

Trailing 3-0 in the second, Bailey walked two batters to load the bases with two outs. Murphy cleared them with a line drive into the right-field corner and then scored on Anthony Rendon's double.

Reds reliever Lisalverto Bonilla surrendered five runs on eight hits, including both of Taylor's homers.

Bryce Harper had one of Washington's 19 hits, but he struck out three times before being lifted for a pinch-hitter in the sixth.

Kivlehan added an RBI single in the eighth.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Reds: Bailey was diagnosed with right biceps tendinitis following a one-inning start last August and eventually shut down for the season. He allowed two earned runs over 16 2/3 innings during three rehab starts before his recall Saturday. OF Jesse Winker was optioned to AAA-Louisville to make room for Bailey. ... LHP Brandon Finnegan, on the DL since Apr. 16 with a left shoulder injury, will start Monday, Reds manager Bryan Price said.

Nationals: Taylor's first four-hit game of his career came after being held out the lineup the previous two games with an undisclosed injury. The center fielder also tracked down Scooter Gennett's deep fly ball for a leaping catch just shy of the wall in the third.

UP NEXT

Reds: Scott Feldman (5-5, 4.20 ERA) leads Cincinnati with seven quality starts

Nationals: RHP Tanner Roark (6-4, 4.88) allowed 13 earned runs in 7 2-3 innings over his last two starts.

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Harper's 10th-inning single lifts Nationals past Reds 6-5

Harper's 10th-inning single lifts Nationals past Reds 6-5

WASHINGTON -- Bryce Harper singled in the winning run in the 10th inning, Brian Goodwin homered twice and the Washington Nationals got a solid performance from their bullpen in a 6-5 victory over the Cincinnati Reds on Friday night.

Anthony Rendon and Daniel Murphy also homered for the Nationals, who trailed 5-2 in the sixth before coming back to deal the Reds their 12th loss in 13 games.

Trea Turner singled off Raisel Iglesias (2-2) with one out in the 10th and took third on a single by Goodwin before Harper hit a liner that struck the right-field wall on one bounce.

Matt Albers (3-1) pitched the 10th to cap an impressive night for the Nationals' bullpen, a maligned group that blanked the Reds on one hit over the final five innings.

Goodwin homered in the first inning and again in the seventh, the first multihomer game of the rookie's career.

Scooter Gennett connected for the skidding Reds.

Seeking his ninth win, Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg gave up five runs and eight hits in five innings, walking two and striking out five. It was only the third time in 15 starts the right-hander allowed more than three earned runs, but it was also the third straight start in which he failed to go six innings.

Reds starter Luis Castillo pitched five effective innings in his major league debut and left with a 5-2 lead, but the Cincinnati bullpen deprived him of the victory. Castillo allowed two runs and five hits, walking five and striking out five.

The 24-year-old rookie was replaced by Michael Lorenzen, who promptly served up a home run to Murphy and gave up a sacrifice fly to pinch-hitter Stephen Drew later in the sixth.

Wandy Peralta took over in the seventh and, like Lorenzen, gave up a homer to the first batter he faced. Goodwin's drive to right made it 5-all.

Early on, Cincinnati dominated.

The Reds batted around in a four-run first inning that featured Gennett's 10th home run, a run-scoring fly ball by Scott Schebler and successive RBI singles from Devin Mesorasco and Jose Peraza.

Goodwin homered in the bottom half, but Mesoraco singled in a run in the third. The two-out bloop landed in front of Wilmer Difo, who was playing center field for the first time in the majors and pulled up as the ball dropped at his feet.