Great plays become irrelevant, though, when you cannot score. About 45 minutes before the first pitch, the Nationals inserted Tyler Moore into left field for his major league debut. Moore, who had flown all night from Class AAA Syracuse, went 1 for 3 with a line-drive single to right-center in the fifth.
At full strength, the Nationals have lacked offense. Without Werth, Capuano retired their first nine batters in order. Ian Desmond led off the fourth with a bullet off the top of the left-field fence for a double and moved to third on Steve Lombardozzi’s sacrifice bunt. Danny Espinosa, batting third after Werth’s scratch, needed to put the ball in play. He struck swinging at a high fastball.
Capuano pitched around LaRoche, and these days when you walk the Nationals cleanup hitter, you might just get to face Nady, hitting fifth despite a .140 average. Nady struck out on four pitches.
Espinosa’s strikeout continued two of the trends currently dooming the Nationals offense. Espinosa has 27 strikeouts in 21 games. As a team, the Nationals have given themselves 45 chances with a runner on third and less than two outs. They’ve scored the run 19 times.
“Situation or non-situation, we’ve got to put the ball in play,” Eckstein said.
The offense provides a small margin for their starting pitchers, who have allowed two earned runs or less in 17 of 22 games. Gonzalez cruised into the sixth inning with the game scoreless, the fourth of their six games on their West Coast swing in which the Nationals were tied at zero after five.
With one out in the sixth, Gonzalez endured the kind of wild spell he had seemingly left in Oakland, where he led the league in walks in 2011. He walked Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Uribe to load the bases, spewing 12 consecutive balls at one point.
“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.”
James Loney took advantage. He flicked a single into shallow center field, scoring two runs. Gonzalez had allowed only three hits, bringing his total in his past four starts to a scant nine. But Sunday, five walks, even with his seven strikeouts, did him in.
The Nationals have Monday to regroup. Tuesday, they will welcome the Arizona Diamondbacks to Nationals Park and introduce Harper to his new home.
“It’s going to be fun to go into D.C. and play,” Harper said. “I’m really excited. Very, very excited. It’s going to be a fun time.”