Nationals swept in Detroit

By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 19, 2010

DETROIT Reprinted from yesterday's late editions

-- One week ago, the Washington Nationals left their home park with lofty aims and reason to believe they could reach them. They had a three-game winning streak, a record hovering around .500 and a phenom pitcher who had become the talk of baseball. For once, optimism shaped their possibilities.

The final fumes of those good vibes evaporated Thursday afternoon as the Detroit Tigers completed a sweep with an 8-3 victory over the Nationals before 33,630 at Comerica Park. The Nationals ended their ruinous road trip 1-5, dropping them five games under .500 for the first time this season.

On Friday, the Nationals will turn to Stephen Strasburg, not hopeful to extend any kind of momentum but desperate for a victory. The Nationals haven't won since Sunday, the last time Strasburg pitched, and the Tigers' pummeling of the Nationals made Strasburg's presence on the mound necessary.

"He's the best we got right now," first baseman Adam Dunn said. "We need him to come out and pitch like he's been pitching. That's why he's up here."

Strasburg's arrival has not lifted Nationals aside from offering a respite from losing every fifth game. Since Strasburg joined the Nationals, they are 2-5 in games started by another pitcher. Rookie Luis Atilano became the third consecutive Nationals starter to provide scant chance for his team to win, allowing five runs on nine hits in 4 1/3 innings.

On Friday, the Nationals will receive their most significant boost from Strasburg. But simply going home will help. The Nationals went 1-5 in Cleveland and Detroit, which dropped them to 13-24 on the road this year.

"I don't know about home," shortstop Ian Desmond said. "I just want a win. I don't know care if it's at home, on the road, in Japan. I want to win."

Since the Nationals hit 20-15 on May 15, they have gone 11-21 and fallen to last place, where they have spent 14 of 17 days in June. On their brutal road trip, aside from the game Strasburg dominated, the Nationals rarely threatened to win. All five losses came by at least three runs, and four came by at least five. They were outscored, 41-27.

The Tigers, now on a six-game winning streak, thrashed the Nationals for three games. Their pitchers struck out 32 and walked three. ("We were chasing today," Manager Jim Riggleman said.) The Tigers outscored the Nationals, 23-10. Magglio Ordóñez and Miguel Cabrera went a combined 12 for 24 in the series.

"This team is a really, really good team, and they just beat the crap out of us," Dunn said. "They flat-out beat us. They were just better than us for three days."

On Thursday, the Tigers wrested complete control from the beginning. Starter Jeremy Bonderman retired the first 11 Nationals of the game, striking out five of them. The Nationals also ran into hard luck, good defense and, most significantly a cavernous ballpark. They drove four outs to the warning track and two others that came close.

After the game, Riggleman told his players, "Swing the bat the way you swung it today, and we're going to be fine," Riggleman said. "We got to just continue to realize it's attention to detail. Tighten the game up."

With help from Comerica Park, Bonderman oppressed the Nationals, allowing two runs on five hits in seven innings. Alex Avila gave the Tigers a two-run lead with a two-run double in the second. Atilano matched Bonderman until the fifth, when Cabrera smoked a two-run double over Roger Bernadina's head in center.

As the game fell out of their grasp, Dunn continued his torrid stretch of hitting, blasting two flyballs to the track before finally he smoked a home run to right in the seventh, his sixth in nine games. He added an RBI single in the eighth, much too little much too late.

"We definitely aren't playing our best baseball," Desmond said. "Everything is just not coming into synch right now. We just got to keep on playing solid baseball. Eventually, the tides are going to turn." The Nationals could find solace in a trip home and, especially, the next day's starter. The Nationals have the third-worst record in baseball since May 15. Once every five days, at least, optimism reigns.

"Tomorrow," Tigers Manager Jim Leyland said, "they'll be one of the best teams in baseball."

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