Nats Top Reds With Help of Eighth-Inning Error

By Mark Viera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 12, 2009

The monsoon-like conditions over Nationals Park have made the weather a sideshow recently in Washington's three-ring circus of a season. The rain also has been a distraction from some of the real issues facing the Nationals.

In its 3-2 victory over the Cincinnati Reds, Washington managed to avoid being swept and took a positive step entering interleague play that will pit it against three consecutive American League East opponents. It was the Nationals' 11th come-from-behind win. But the win could not mask the problem currently plaguing them: sagging offensive productivity.

Washington (16-42) did not score any of its runs as a direct result of hits. In the sixth inning, Cristian Guzmán grounded into a forceout to score Josh Willingham. And in a rally in the eighth, Anderson Hernández scored on Ryan Zimmerman's force before Guzmán reached home on a Reds error.

"We just got to get our offense going again," Manager Manny Acta said. "We struggled again with runners in scoring position. We know we can do it."

The Nationals were 2 for 14 with runners in scoring position yesterday. Some of the players who are supposed to be their most potent offensive weapons have faded lately, including Austin Kearns, who is batting .154 with 19 strikeouts in his last 21 games, and Elijah Dukes, who went 0 for 5 and struck out three times yesterday.

The Reds (31-28) eked out their first run on an error. In the second inning, Zimmerman overthrew Adam Dunn at first base to allow Alex González to score from third. In the fourth inning, González roped a single into left field to score Jonny Gomes, who was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning, and give the Reds a 2-0 lead.

John Lannan did not always stay out of trouble yesterday, struggling early on to command his sinker. But he managed to induce a number of flyouts and was reasonably efficient in often tight circumstances: He threw 88 pitches, 55 for strikes, in six innings. He allowed two runs on five hits, with two walks and two strikeouts. He received solid backing from the bullpen, particularly from Julián Tavárez, who threw two scoreless innings to earn the win, and Joe Beimel, who earned the save.

"He just goes out every five days and gives us a chance to win, throws that sinker," Acta said of Lannan. "He does a good job for us. He gave us an opportunity to stay close to them. And Tavárez was huge."

To compound their recent hitting troubles, the Nationals faced one of the hottest pitching teams in the National League.

On Tuesday, Johnny Cueto showed why he is considered among the game's promising young talents with a fastball that has speed and difficult-to-predict movement. On Wednesday, Aaron Harang was crisp. The Nationals did not have much success against yesterday's starter, Micah Owings, who allowed one run on four hits with four strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings.

Dunn dismissed the suggestion about the Reds' pitching, saying: "We're a pretty good offense. I think that kind of eliminates each other."

The Nationals squandered a few of their chances to impact the scoreboard early. Look at the third inning. With men on second and third and one out -- and their Nos. 4 and 5 hitters coming to the plate -- Washington appeared in prime position to capitalize. But Dunn and Dukes could not. Dunn struck out on a 2-2 cutter. After a seven-pitch at-bat, Dukes struck out on a 78-mph changeup.

"You can just see the frustration," Dunn said. "People are trying to get that big hit."

In the sixth inning, though, the Nationals were able to make good with runners in scoring position. Facing reliever Jared Burton with the bases loaded and one out, Guzmán grounded into a force at third base. Willingham, who led off the inning with a blooper to right field, scored on the play.

Down 2-1 with the bases loaded in the eighth, Zimmerman hit a grounder to shortstop to score Hernández from third. But after Cincinnati's González flipped the ball to Brandon Phillips for the force out at second base, the Nationals received a break. Trying to turn a double play by throwing out Zimmerman at first, Phillips made a wild throw that allowed Guzmán to score on the error to go ahead.

Afterward, fireworks exploded over the stadium and heavy metal played in the clubhouse. The place felt alive after the win, but the Nationals have yet to awaken their bats.

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