In the Nationals’ 4-2 loss to the Colorado Rockies,
fell victim to his offense’s continued doldrums and the difficulty in bouncing back after hitting an opposing batter in the helmet. Strasburg, despite a dearth of support, carried a one-run lead into the sixth inning. He then drilled shortstop Marco Scutaro with a 95-mph fastball square in the helmet. Scutaro left the game on his own, and within three batters Strasburg had lost the lead.
The Nationals’ meager offense again left their dominant pitching staff out to dry. Against Francis, a soft-tossing left-hander with an 8.56 ERA on a 75-pitch limit, the Nationals managed two runs — one of which Strasburg himself drove in — on eight hits, and struck out 10 times. In their past 10 games, the Nationals have scored 25 runs.
They have not been shut down only by aces, but also the kind of starters a few bad pitches away from a bullpen assignment. In the past 10 games, the Nationals have scored two runs or less in games started by Ivan Nova (4.25 ERA), Phil Hughes (4.94), Jake Arrieta (5.55) and, now, Francis, who lowered his ERA to 7.23.
“A lot of times, pitchers are as good as we make ’em as an offense,” first baseman Adam LaRoche said. “It seems like guys with bigger ERAs seem to go pretty deep against us, give up one or two runs. We haven’t taken advantage of that.
“There’s no magic formula to do it. Just each guy put a good at-bat together, get enough guys out there, come up with some big hits. But we haven’t done it. We haven’t been scoring lots of runs. We’re winning some games. But the offense, we all need to step it up.”
Francis flummoxed the Nationals, throwing a fastball that never hit 87 mph, a tricky change-up and a slow curveball. The Nationals could not wait for the pitches to reach them, flailing and making weak contact in front of the plate. Francis fed Bryce Harper lazy sliders well off the outside edge of the plate. Harper struck out twice in three at-bats against Francis, and he finished 0 for 4 with three strikeouts.
“Our approach wasn’t very good,” Johnson said. “I think we’re getting caught in between. We’re getting caught in between fastballs and breaking balls and we’re chasing out of the zone. We’ve got some more veteran hitters doing the same thing, but the younger guys are more guilty. But our approach has just to go improve.”
Johnson plans on addressing the flawed approach with Nationals players and hitting coach Rick Eckstein. He believes they are over-thinking at the plate.
“We work on the same things,” LaRoche said. “We go out in the game and we try to get a little extra, and it’s not a good result half the time.”