Brewers Hammer Nationals With 6-Run Sixth

By Bill Oram
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 25, 2009

As the Nationals have steadily shown improvement in the last month, questions slowly have been resolved. Last week they locked up a permanent general manager and signed their No. 1 draft pick. More broadly, they've learned that Adam Dunn can be an effective first baseman, that their young pitchers -- if given time to mature -- may be able to consistently perform at the major league level, and that veteran sluggers like Ryan Zimmerman and Dunn can be anchors for what has been of late a potent offense.

But Washington, which continues to sport the worst record in baseball, remains stymied as to how to stop the opposing team from exploding for a big inning. Monday it came in the sixth, when the Milwaukee Brewers batted through their lineup, scoring six times, turning a slim lead into a deficit that, for the Nationals, might as well have been as big as the Grand Canyon. The inning keyed the Brewers 7-1 win over Washington before an announced crowd of 17,805 in a game that started at 4:35 p.m.

Three Nationals pitchers trotted out in the fifth, and none of them could tame the bats of the Brewers, who didn't suffer an out until the ninth batter of the inning, Felipe López, hit into a fielder's choice. The Brewers improved to 61-63 and remain mired in the middle of the crowded NL Central.

The Nationals (44-81) had received a solid outing from starter Collin Balester, who in six previous starts this season was 1-3 with an ERA of 6.75. Against the Brewers he crafted five scoreless innings, in which he struck out six and gave up just two hits. But in the sixth, he gave up four consecutive hits, including a double to Frank Catalanatto and a home run to Ryan Braun, whose 27th homer of the season was a two-run shot that set the tone for the rest of the inning. Balester was quickly replaced by Jason Bergmann, who faced just two batters before giving way to Ron Villone who allowed up a base hit to pinch hitter Jody Gerut before settling in, forcing López to hit into the fielder's choice and striking out Catalanatto and Braun.

The damage was not pretty, and if the Nationals opt to lift the bandage and revisit what went wrong in the sixth inning they will see a string of hits that might seem endless but actually stopped at six. The deluge was not perpetuated by the Nationals; there were no errors or particularly alarming miscues. Bergmann recorded a wild pitch that allowed runners to advance, but it was bats of the Brewers that actually drove in runs.

The Brewers, on the other hand, pulled their starter before the bottom of the sixth. The Nationals eked out four hits against Yovani Gallardo, managing one run that came in the second inning. Willie Harris scored on a fielder's choice after leading off the inning with a looping double to centerfield. Harris was the lone Nationals player with multiple hits, going 2 for 3.

Gallardo, whose record improved to 12-10, slammed the door after that, suffocating the Nationals and preventing them from piecing together any more runs. In his efficient five-inning appearance, Gallardo struck out eight , notably keeping consistent performers Zimmerman and Dunn at bay. Both hit home runs against the Brewers a day earlier, but on Monday both were 0 for 3.

The Nationals struck out 11 times in the game and had only one other viable scoring opportunity. It came in the third inning when Cristian Guzmán hit a soft double to shallow left field just inside the foul line. After strikeouts by Zimmerman and Dunn, Josh Willingham reached on an error and Harris walked before Wil Nieves was called out on strikes.

Jorge Sosa pitched part of the seventh and the eighth innings for the Nationals, giving up a solo homer to Gerut in the eighth.

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