The joyride of last year sputtered to a final stop Tuesday night as Adam Wainwright crammed 81
3 innings of nine-strikeout, five-hit mastery down the Nationals’ throats. Their offense stranded Ross Detwiler, who deserved better after allowing two runs in six innings.
Last year’s Nationals knew only the freedom of winning. These Nationals now know the stress of losing. They dropped to 10-10, the first time they have been .500 or worse since April 9, 2012. World Series favorites on opening day, the Nationals are 1-7 against opponents with winning records. The Nationals have lost eight of their past 11 games, which did not happen once in 2012.
“Rock bottom, it feels like,” first baseman Adam LaRoche said.
It may still be April. But the Nationals last year did not ever deal with such a sustained stretch of failure. So what happens now?
“I don’t know,” Detwiler said. “I’ve never really been in this situation before. This is Game 20? Of 162? So I think it’s early.”
Johnson thinks it is time for change. He promised Wednesday’s lineup would be missing some regulars. LaRoche, especially against Cardinals left-hander Jaime Garcia, may be a prime candidate. He struck out in each of his four at-bats Tuesday, leaving him 0 for his past 10 with seven strikeouts. The most damaging came when he could not check his swing on Wainwright’s eye-high, 2-2 fastball with the bases loaded and two outs in the sixth inning.
“Needless to say, he had my number tonight,” LaRoche said. “Punched out four times and left 100 guys on base. Bad timing. All of it.”
Nationals players insisted 20 games should not cause their anger to boil over. They may have a collective .301 on-base percentage. They have scored two runs or fewer in seven of 10 games. They believe following Johnson’s directive — “get mad” — may only drive them deeper into quicksand.
“I understand why it’d be so frustrating for us and it would be easy to turn that way and just be [ticked] off about everything,” second baseman Danny Espinosa said. “But what’s that going to do? It’s going to put added pressure on every single guy in the clubhouse, trying to do more, trying to get outside of their game. You’re putting too much pressure on every single guy.”
Said LaRoche: “The whole team is frustrated. What do you do? Are you going to try harder? Swing harder? It doesn’t work. We’ve got to stick with our plan and expect it to work eventually.”