“It wasn’t hit soft enough for us to make a play, and he just lined it right where it needed to be,” Gonzalez said. “That’s basically it. It was just one bad inning, and after that if I could’ve turned that page, I’d still be pitching the game.”
Gonzalez gave the Nationals another 12
3 innings before yielding to the Nationals’ maligned bullpen. Craig Stammen and Henry Rodriguez each allowed one run to put the game further out of reach. Even as Rodriguez pitched in a four-run game in the eighth, fans remained interested. Opposing fans dueled with cheers and boos. The stands blended both Nationals red and white and Orioles orange and black. Applause for the Nationals was met with “Let’s go O’s!” The excitement from last season, the first year since baseball returned to Washington in 2005 that both teams reached the playoffs, was apparent.
The Nationals put the leadoff batter on base against Hammel four times but pushed only two across home plate. Gonzalez led off the third inning with a double but advanced no farther than third base. Roger Bernadina, struggling with a .113 average and filling in for Harper, doubled to start the seventh inning but stood there for the next three outs.
The Nationals’ offense has been hampered by injuries this season and a scuffling bench. Harper missed Monday’s game and is expected to miss at least one more with a swollen and bruised knee. Starting right fielder Jayson Werth and catcher Wilson Ramos are on the disabled list. Danny Espinosa has sat for the past four games because of a fractured right wrist. The absences were apparent.
“When you’re struggling a little bit offensively and you take out one of your better hitters it doesn’t help,” Johnson said of Harper. “But certainly we have the talent and we’re certainly capable. We’re just not quite getting there.”
The Nationals, facing a 4-1 deficit after five innings, seemed poised to rally in the sixth. Denard Span led off with a triple to right field. With one out, Zimmerman singled softly to right to plate Span. Adam LaRoche lifted a flyball to center for the second out. Ian Desmond kept the inning alive with a single to center. But Moore added to the offensive misery by striking out on a 95-mph outside fastball.
“We just haven’t been able to consistently, up and down the lineup, put together good at-bats day in and day out,” Zimmerman said. “When you can’t do that you don’t score runs. We’ve just got to keep working, keep getting better each day.”