After the Nationals’ ninth comeback victory of the season Friday night, the manner in which the original deficit formed gnawed at Jayson Werth. He flogged himself for dropping the foul flyball that should have ended the first inning, but instead led to Marlon Byrd’s three-run homer off Stephen Strasburg. But the most pertinent problem, in Werth’s view, was the Nationals’ penchant for turnings errors into catastrophe.
“I think the bigger issue, the one that sticks out for me about this game more than anything else, is we’ve been giving up a lot of runs early in the game. We’ve been making a lot of errors,” Werth said. “Even last year, every time we make an error, it leads to like that [Friday night]. I almost feel like we’re snakebit. We don’t make an error, and then nothing happens. It always leads to something bad happening. It doesn’t have to be like that. It really doesn’t. Making errors is part of that game. It shouldn’t lead to, you make an error and lose the game because of it. It feels like it happens a lot. We got to stop doing that. We got to stop making errors. But we got to stop making errors and then not recover from it.”
Werth took responsibility for not catching the ball, saying, “I just didn’t catch it.” He said the play was so routine he never remembers botching a similar play. But his point remained. He wants the Nationals to respond better to errors.
“It leads to a three-run error to start the game off,” Werth said. “You don’t like to make errors. You definitely don’t like for it to lead to [stuff] like that.”
The Nationals have surrendered 22 unearned runs in their first 29 games. Their 89 earned runs allowed ranks second in the National League, but their 111 runs allowed overall ranks only seventh. Unearned runs, essentially, have turned the Nationals’ run prevention from elite to mediocre.
The Nationals rank fourth in the majors with 27 errors. High error totals, of course, are the primary reason for high unearned run totals. But other sloppy defenses have been better at yielding unearned runs. The Dodgers have made four more errors, but they’ve allowed four fewer unearned runs. The Diamondbacks have made two more errors but allowed three fewer unearned runs. The Indians: one more error, three fewer unearned runs.
Strasburg’s ability, or inability, to respond to errors has been a major topic of the past two seasons. Six of the 22 runs he’s allowed this year have been unearned. In his second start, Strasburg’s outing unraveled after Ryan Zimmerman’s throwing errors. Strasburg, though, has been stronger in demeanor after bad defense behind him. Sometimes, a good pitcher throws a bad pitch to a good hitter. That’s what happened Friday night, Strasburg said.
“I felt like I gathered myself,” Strasburg said. “That inning, my fastball was up a little bit. I just made a bad pitch. I was able to settle down, get my fastball location a little bit better.”
The Nationals actually viewed Strasburg’s determination as a major factor in Friday’s comeback. He followed the first inning with five efficient, scoreless frames, improving his fastball command and getting a better feel for his curve as the night wore on. “That’s the reason why we won,” Denard Span said. “If he falls apart and gets erratic, then we don’t have an opportunity to win the game.”