By Zach Berman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 27, 2009
The Washington Nationals endured their 102nd loss of the season on Saturday in a game that appeared eerily similar to many of the previous 101 defeats. The starting pitching struggled early. The relief pitching struggled late. The defense struggled throughout.
Interim manager Jim Riggleman entered the clubhouse after the game and told players, "If I see lack of effort, I'll address it."
Riggleman said he didn't see lack of effort. Just mistakes. But they were the mistakes that also happened in the previous five months, which was why the Nationals' 11-5 loss to the Atlanta Braves struck such a familiar tone.
"We're trying to win as many games as we can, and these losses in September hurt just like they do in April," said first baseman Adam Dunn, who finished 0 for 4. "It's not like we're out there, 'Oh, well, we lost another one.' "
The late-September games are not meaningless -- especially when playing a team gunning for the National League wild-card spot. But Saturday's performance combined with a continuous drizzle allowed the announced crowd of 29,058 to depart Nationals Park early enough to enjoy an early Saturday night dinner.
Washington trailed 4-0 at the end of the first inning. It was 5-0 after two. Although the Nationals spent the sixth, seventh and eighth innings trailing only 6-4, they needed three pitchers to finish a ninth inning when they surrendered five more runs to the Braves.
Starter Garrett Mock dropped to 3-10 after allowing six runs -- four earned -- while walking four and striking out five in five innings. He was hurt by a first inning when an error and a seeing-eye single helped the Braves take the quick lead.
"It's just the way things are going," Riggleman said. "He threw a little better than what six runs on the board says."
Riggleman said Mock is at a stage in his career when he must learn from each of these starts. Riggleman was encouraged that Mock pitched as fast as 96 mph in late September, and Mock said his arm feels better now than it did at the beginning of the season. He does not begrudge his teammates because he sees the defensive practices conducted before games.
Mock said sometimes "learning is the most painful thing to go through," and that pitching better on Saturday was not good enough. He said he does not process the difference between a hit and an error and pays little attention to his record and earned run average. Mock has one more start this season, and he keeps notes after each outing about what needs to be done better.
Some of it, though, is out of his control. Such as the three errors, including two by right fielder Elijah Dukes and one by third baseman Pete Orr.
Riggleman said he would not use words like "discouraged" or "frustrated" because he insists the effort is still there, and the breaks that befall a good team are nowhere to be found for the Nationals.
"Freakish things are happening," Riggleman said. "That's where we are. And you know what? Let's get it out of the way this year. All these crazy things that have happened. We're due for a little better stuff in that area next year. We don't use injuries as an excuse. We don't do any of that. But there's some good fortune in the game some time. And sometimes, you're in a funk where you get in some bad luck."
Saturday marked the Nationals' ninth loss in 11 games, and Riggleman emphasized that the losses are hurting the players in the clubhouse. He identified Dunn as a player who has been playing hurt, and Dunn is clearly irritated by the accumulating loss total.
"I don't like losing, especially when I can't really point a finger on why we're losing," Dunn said. "It's very frustrating. I can't put it into words. I hate it. I hate it. It's terrible. Not good."