At the Restart, Nationals Stall Out

The Brewers' Damian Miller strokes a two-run double against the Nationals in the eighth inning, breaking a 2-2 tie. Washington has lost three in a row.
The Brewers' Damian Miller strokes a two-run double against the Nationals in the eighth inning, breaking a 2-2 tie. Washington has lost three in a row. (By Morry Gash -- Associated Press)
By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 15, 2005

MILWAUKEE, July 14 -- The game could have been remembered for all the right reasons, what with the new center fielder touching down at the airport while his teammates were at the ballpark, showing up in the clubhouse, introducing himself to some of the guys, then smacking a home run in his first at-bat.

But Preston Wilson's arrival, and his homer, were hardly enough for the Washington Nationals on Thursday afternoon at Miller Park, and neither the all-star break nor the new addition did anything to transform the offense into something it's not. Rather, the malaise was still there, in all its glory, on display in a 4-2 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers that stretched the Nationals' losing streak to three games and featured all of four hits: Wilson's homer and three measly singles.

This wasn't the way the second half was supposed to start for a first-place club with hopes of a division title. Reliever Gary Majewski gave up the winning runs in the eighth on a two-run double to catcher Damian Miller, and another effective start from John Patterson went to waste. Yet there were larger concerns. All-star break or not, the recent offensive struggles -- four or fewer runs in nine of their last 11 games -- have Manager Frank Robinson worried.

"It's been going on for about a week or something now," Robinson said. "We're just not doing anything offensively. As a matter of fact, our bats are missing in action, to tell you the truth. We're not doing much, and when we get a few opportunities, we're not cashing in on them. It looks like our offense earlier in the year."

That, in case anybody missed the month of April, is not a compliment. Wilson, who arrived via a trade that sent pitcher Zach Day to Colorado on Wednesday, made more of a splash than anyone could have hoped, hitting a 3-1 pitch from Milwaukee left-hander Doug Davis into the left field seats for a 1-0 Washington lead in the second, his 16th homer this year.

A surprise?

"I think they already knew I could hit home runs," Wilson said afterward.

The surprise, then, was that it didn't filter throughout the lineup. Marlon Byrd singled in the third, when the Nationals went up 2-1 on Jose Vidro's groundout. Vinny Castilla and Brian Schneider hit back-to-back singles in the fourth. After that, the Nationals' only base runners came when Brad Wilkerson reached on an error in the fifth and Jamey Carroll walked in the eighth. Davis -- relying on a fastball and a subtle cutter -- cruised through seven innings, and two relievers easily finished it off.

"We got to start making adjustments to what they're doing out there to us," Vidro said.

Patterson, too, is thinking about making adjustments. Entering Thursday's game, only six National League starters had lower ERAs than Patterson's 2.91, and they were all-stars (though Pedro Martinez of the New York Mets declined his invitation). But Patterson is 3-2 in 16 starts. After he threw six innings of two-run baseball Thursday -- allowing a game-tying homer to Geoff Jenkins in the sixth -- his ERA over his last five starts is 2.97, yet he doesn't have a decision.

Asked if that was getting frustrating, Patterson said, "I don't know how to answer that. I'm throwing the ball really well."

He knows, too, that he threw a lot of pitches in a short amount of time Thursday, 115 in his six innings, a total that was inflated because he struck out a career-high nine hitters. He said he would try to conserve pitches earlier in the game so that he can throw seven innings -- a total he has reached five times this season, but he has never recorded an out in the eighth.

The lack of offense, though, could be getting to him. Saturday, he tossed seven scoreless innings in Philadelphia, yet the Nationals lost 1-0 in the bottom of the ninth. Asked if waiting around for run support was wearing on him, Patterson sighed.

"I don't want to get into all that," he said. "I just got to keep doing what I'm doing."

Nationals pitching coach Randy St. Claire said he hasn't heard "one word" out of Patterson about the lack of run support.

"You can't control wins," St. Claire said. "You just got to go out there and do your job, and he's doing that."

The fact, though, is that the offense isn't doing its job, and it is controlling whether the Nationals win or lose. Six times in eight games, they have lost, and -- quality pitching, home runs from new additions or not -- the Atlanta Braves are all too well-equipped to close in on the lead in the National League East for the Nationals to get away with playing like this.

"Hopefully," Castilla said, "this bump in the road ends [Friday]."

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