The Nationals squandered another sterling performance from Stephen Strasburg, who allowed two runs over seven sweltering innings. Their offense condensed the frustration of the season’s first half into one inning, loading the bases in the fourth only to come away with zilch.
“It sucks,” said outfielder Bryce Harper, who will bat leadoff Saturday as long as Adam LaRoche is recovered enough from the illness that kept him out of the lineup Friday night. “You try to get guys on and score some runs. That bases-loaded, no-outs is a huge situation. And we couldn’t capitalize.”
The Nationals’ stumble to start the second half coupled with the Atlanta Braves’ victory over the Chicago White Sox dropped the Nationals (48-48) seven games out of first in the NL East. They also fell a half-game behind the Philadelphia Phillies, tumbling into third place for the first time since June 8.
After they went 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position and grounded into three double plays, the Nationals handed Soriano a 2-2 game in the ninth. Ethier led off, and Soriano quickly moved ahead of him with two strikes and one ball. Soriano twirled a slider that fell out of the strike zone. Ethier skied it to right field, where the ball carries well this time of year. Jayson Werth drifted back to the wall and looked up as the ball landed in the front row.
“I don’t know how he hit that ball,” Soriano said. “When I make a mistake, it’s not easy for me. When I make a good pitch and the hitter hits the ball good like tonight, there’s nothing I can do.”
Soriano could have stayed away from Ethier, who like many left-handed sluggers is known for his ability to mash low and inside pitches. But Soriano said he started the at-bat with fastballs away, and the situation called for a pitch low and in, no matter the hitter.
Ethier’s shot spoiled another strong night from Strasburg, who rebounded from his two-inning debacle in Miami in the final start of his first half. He threw more first-pitch strikes as he fought withering heat and a surging Dodgers lineup. He struck out six and retired Yasiel Puig in all three of their encounters, including a seven-pitch strikeout on a 97-mph fastball. He walked one and gave up seven hits, six of them singles, as his ERA shrunk to 2.97.