When asked about the 3-0 swing, Manager Davey Johnson blurted, “I’m not going to go into that.”
Sunday provided few enjoyable questions for Johnson. Zimmermann and Duke pitched around three Nationals errors as the team’s odd, troubling and season-long defensive negligence continued. Twelve of their errors have been committed by the left side of their infield. Entering Sunday, only seven major league teams had totaled a dozen miscues.
“I have all the confidence in the world in our defense,” Johnson said. “A lot of talented guys out there. Sometimes, you make errors. I saw Brooks Robinson make three errors in one ballgame. Did I worry about it? No. We’re just a little out of sync. We’ll get there.”
Johnson dismissed the notion that the miscues had stacked up because of expectations-induced jitters. The Nationals entered the season favored to win the World Series, and they have performed well below capacity. Whether those facts are related is a conversation piece.
“I hope other guys don’t see it that way, like we’re supposed to be leading the world in every category,” LaRoche said. “It just doesn’t happen. Just because we don’t start out hot doesn’t mean this is the way we’re going to perform all year. It can if you let it get that way, where everybody starts pressing. We’ll look up in a couple months and be in a bad spot.”
The malaise infected even Harper, who typically plays with a fierce edge. In the sixth inning, Mike Baxter ripped a single to left field. Harper charged and then, realizing he had no play, backed off to play the ball on a hop. The ball skipped off his glove and trickled away. Harper looked behind, expecting to see the ball but finding only green grass. By the time Harper located the ball in front of him, Baxter, as Harper has done to so many opposing outfielders, punished him for a split-second of uncertainty. He bolted to second base, and Harper sailed the throw over Danny Espinosa’s head.
“There was nothing I could do,” Harper said. “The good news is, he didn’t score.”
From the beginning, the Nationals made simple plays adventurous. Jordany Valdespin led off the game with a grounder to shortstop Desmond, and he flung the ball past LaRoche at first base. Valdespin took second, and Desmond swallowed his league-leading seventh error.
By the end of the day, the Nationals found themselves in the familiar position of relying on the calendar for solace. It is early, to be sure, but it will only be early for so long.
“We haven’t played very good, in all facets,” Werth said. “Defense hasn’t been right. Offense, we haven’t really lined up. Pitching has been pretty much the same. But we’ll get it going. I couldn’t tell you what our record is, but things could be a lot worse. We’re a good team. We’ll get it together. We’ve got too much talent. We’ll be all right.”