Prior to their latest loss, standing by the batting cage, General Manager Mike Rizzo refused to consider the notion forwarded by Johnson: That preseason attention — the hype of being favored to win the World Series — had anything to do with an uneven first month.
“I don’t buy that at all,” Rizzo said. “I think those are all external. It’s not internal whatsoever. There’s guys that are possibly trying too hard. I could see that. As far as a result of external messages, I don’t believe that.”
If the first 20 games have left you wondering what happened to the swashbuckling bunch that won 98 games last year, Rizzo offered a message: Wait.
“I like the team we have,” Rizzo said. “I think we’ve got a good ballclub, and we’re going to win a lot of games this year. It’s early. I’m a big proponent of, ‘It’s a long season.’
“I think people that are fans of the team, they go game by game. If these players went game by game and lamented over each loss and celebrated over each victory, you couldn’t survive in a season. You really have to take a broad view and look at the big picture and really play the game inning by inning, at-bat by at-bat, but you have to have a broad view of it. Otherwise, the grind of the season will just chew you up.”
The slog of losing eight of 11 may be chewing them up now. Nationals hitters showed anxiousness all night against Wainwright. His looping curve and mid-90s fastball may have overpowered the most securely disciplined offense. But 23 times, the Nationals swung at the first or second pitch of an at-bat.
Wainwright retired 15 of the first 16 batters he faced, including 13 in a row heading into the sixth inning. Singles from Kurt Suzuki and Denard Span finally broke the spell. Typically impatient, Jayson Werth popped the first pitch he saw a few feet behind second base.
Wainwright walked Bryce Harper on five pitches — the first walk he had allowed all season, after 342
3 innings without one free pass. The inning fell, with the bases loaded, to LaRoche. Wainwright set a trap for a hitter trying to make up for three tough weeks, a 2-2, 94-mph fastball at LaRoche’s neck. LaRoche could not check his swing.
In the seventh, after the Nationals had finally found a sliver of vulnerability in Wainwright, they responded with a whimper. Three batters saw five pitches.
“Some guys might need to get a fire lit under them to get it going a little bit,” Suzuki said. “We’ve just got to stay with the process, not panic too much and not read too much into how things are going. We’ve got to stay even-keel and keep going.”
Afterward, LaRoche searched for perspective. Tuesday afternoon, 11 Nationals players, along with other team personnel, rode a bus to Walter Reed Hospital and visited with wounded veterans. After that, getting mad did not seem necessary.
“Our problems are pretty minuscule compared to what some of those guys are going through,” LaRoche said. “It is a game. I don’t think it’s time for drastic changes in here. For guys to lose control. Again, you ride it out. That’s why you play 162 of them.”