Robust pitching and timely hitting had allowed the Washington Nationals to flourish in the preliminary stages of this baseball season. On Thursday night against the Houston Astros, they generated little of either in an 11-4 loss before an announced 18,045 at Nationals Park.
The Nationals’ three-game winning streak was a goner nearly from the beginning, when starter Edwin Jackson surrendered three triples and five runs in the first inning in allowing the Astros to bat through the order.
Washington made the proceedings competitive again briefly on Ryan Zimmerman’s three-run homer in the third, but the game got out of hand when Tom Gorzelanny was brought in to relieve Jackson to start the sixth.
Gorzelanny permitted six runs on eight hits over two innings, dooming the Nationals to their second loss in 10 games and preventing the franchise’s first four-game series sweep at home since 2005. Washington (10-4) gave up its most runs this season amid 17 Astros hits.
“It just wasn’t our night,” Zimmerman said. “They hit the ball well. They kept tacking on runs.”
The evening began with such promise for Jackson, who fanned leadoff hitter Jordan Schafer on three pitches. Then just as quickly, Jackson unraveled, forcing his outfielders to backpedal on one deep drive after the other as Washington yielded its most runs in any inning this season.
Houston’s hit parade began with Jose Altuve’s triple to right field before J.D. Martinez slapped a first-pitch RBI single that shortstop Steve Lombardozzi knocked down with his glove. That was all the reserve utility player could do on the play, though, and Martinez didn’t even draw a throw to first.
Carlos Lee singled to left field to put runners on first and second for Brian Bogusevic, who drove Jackson’s 0-1 slider to right field for a bases-clearing triple. Matt Downs then worked the count full and on the seventh pitch belted Jackson’s fastball into the gap in left-center.
Bogusevic scored easily for a 4-0 lead, and Downs arrived at third to mark the first time in Astros history the club collected three triples in an inning. It was the 13th time Houston (5-8) recorded three triples in a game, with the last coming on July 2, 1997.
Jason Castro stepped to the plate next and, in fighting off an 0-2 count, delivered a single to right to score Downs. At that point, Gorzelanny began warming up in the bullpen, but Jackson got Marwin Gonzalez to fly out to center and induced pitcher Bud Norris to pop out to second to end the inning.
Jackson managed to shake off that rocky start, and while he breezed through the lineup in subsequent innings, the Nationals got one back in the second when Wilson Ramos singled with two outs to score Adam LaRoche.
In the third, Zimmerman cut the deficit to 5-4 on one swing, depositing a first-pitch fastball into the seats beyond the visiting bullpen with two runners on base. It was the first home run of the season for Zimmerman and just the seventh overall for the Nationals, who entered tied with two other teams for the fewest homers in the majors.
Washington couldn’t provide additional run support for Jackson before he departed following five innings. His final line included five earned runs on seven hits, but in innings two through five, Jackson faced one batter above the minimum to go along with four strikeouts.
“Today’s game is definitely a first,” said Jackson (1-1), whose ERA rose by nearly two full runs to 4.26. “It’s one of those things that happens like that sometimes. The only thing you can do is just continue to go out and battle and continue to throw strikes.”
Six of the first seven batters Gorzelanny faced hit safely, including Norris who laced a one-out single to left field with the bases loaded to make it 7-4. Norris soon came home along with Gonzalez when Altuve doubled to center.
With runners on second and third, Martinez grounded to Gorzelanny, but Schafer scored from third on the throw to first for 10-4. Lee grounded to short, and Gorzelanny mercifully was out of the inning before Houston added the final run in the seventh on Castro’s RBI single.
“The club really bounced back,” Manager Davey Johnson said, “Zim got a good hit, got us close. There’s a case where Gorzo’s got to hold them.”