Strasburg settled into a groove and didn’t allow another base runner until he walked Kipnis again in the fourth inning. With Carlos Santana at the plate, Kipnis took off for second base. Catcher Jhonatan Solano popped up and fired a low throw. The ball skipped past Desmond at second and into center field, and Kipnis moved to third. With a 2-1 count, Santana fought off two Strasburg pitches before he dug out a low fastball and drove it into center field for an RBI single.
Strasburg tossed 82 pitches, limited by Johnson in his first game back, and allowed only one run on one hit over five innings but walked four. It was a fine performance, enough to keep the Nationals within one run. But for nine innings on a day of miserable hitting, that Santana single was all the offense the Indians needed. A sacrifice fly by Kipnis against Craig Stammen in the eighth tacked on an insurance run.
The Nationals’ offensive woes could all be detailed here but it might hurt to read. There was the time in the fourth inning — with Rendon on third because of an error that also allowed Ryan Zimmerman to reach first with no outs — that LaRoche, Jayson Werth and Desmond all struck out against starter Corey Kluber.
There was also an opportunity in the sixth inning — with Denard Span on third and Rendon on first following a pair of no-out singles — that ended with Zimmerman striking out and LaRoche grounding into a double play.
And then there was the seventh inning, when Werth doubled off Kluber to start off the frame, Desmond took a pitch off his hip to reach base and pinch-hitter Lombardozzi reached on a popped-up bunt single that Kluber just missed making a play on.
Then came the bitter ending, as Solano lined a ball at first baseman Mark Reynolds, who doubled off Lombardozzi. Lombardozzi had strayed too much behind Reynolds and he made the easy play to get two outs.
“It’s unacceptable,” Lombardozzi said. “You learn that when you’re growing up as a kid. You can’t get doubled off right there.”
Roger Bernadina then rolled over the second pitch he saw to the shortstop to end the inning. Not even with the bases loaded and no outs could the Nationals plate a run. They retreated to the silent clubhouse with yet another reminder that they are a .500 team in mid-June. They are averaging just 3.49 runners per game (second worst in the majors) and are hitting .239 with runners in scoring position (third worst).
“We’re obviously not playing as good as we could or not where everybody would like to be, but I don’t mind our position,” Werth said. “I don’t mind where we’re at. It may be a good thing. We’ll have to fight and kick and claw the rest of the way. That’s okay.
“That’s how young teams learn how to win and we’re a young team. If we end up at the end of the season and I think we’re going to end up probably for the best. We obviously need to pick it up and start winning some ballgames. We’ve been banged up, not that that’s any excuse but that’s the reality.”