Monday's late game

Washington Nationals end scoreless streak, but it's not enough in loss to Cincinnati Reds

Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Johnny Cueto throws against the Washington Nationals in the first inning of a baseball game, Monday, July 19, 2010, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Al Behrman)
Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Johnny Cueto throws against the Washington Nationals in the first inning of a baseball game, Monday, July 19, 2010, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Al Behrman) (Al Behrman - AP)
By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 21, 2010

CINCINNATI -- Reprinted from Tuesday's late editions

Early on, the Washington Nationals ensured Monday night would be about only small victories. Like scoring. Their pursuit of turning runners into runs had grown into an unattainable alchemy, and so the Cincinnati Reds' four runs before the second inning's first out gave the home team a hammerlock on the outcome.

When the Nationals retreated into the visitors clubhouse to swallow their third straight loss, they could at least find solace in ending their consecutive scoreless streak at 23 innings. But they had also started a new scoring drought. It stands at six.

Before rain interrupted in the third inning and the 21,243 at the Great American Ballpark scattered for cover, the final result of what would become the Nationals' 7-2 defeat had already become clear. Starter J.D. Martin and the defense behind him unraveled during the second inning, leading to a four-run deficit for a team that has now failed to score in 36 of the last 38 innings. The Nationals scored, but it says something that two runs seemed like a lot.

The Nationals have lost three in a row, six of their last eight, 14 of 21 and 38 of 58. Their season, after such a promising start, is becoming one long, losing slog. On Tuesday, they'll send to the mound Luis Atilano, who last Thursday lasted 2 1/3 innings in a Class AAA game designed to keep him fresh.

"That's why baseball is such a beautiful sport," catcher Iván Rodríguez said. "That's why I've been in baseball for 20 years. Baseball is like that. It is something hard. When you're down, you have to keep working hard. Everybody knows it's not going to be there all the time.

"You cannot be frustrated. If you be frustrated, things are going to be worse. We're not frustrated. We're just working hard. We have a great manager, a group of coaches. They're there for us every single day. We cannot ask anything else. We have to come positive every single day. We've got to put this game behind and concentrate for the one tomorrow."

The Nationals are doing some things well. Their bullpen, for example, has allowed one earned run during 9 2/3 innings over the first four games after the all-star break. Before Martin allowed six earned runs in 5 1/3 innings on three walks, six hits and two home runs, their starting pitching had also been lights-out. The Nationals, though, have a special knack for obscuring what they're doing well at a given moment.

"There's a lot of rumors swirling around here as far as guys getting traded," outfielder Willie Harris said. "We have to worry about our opponents. We can't worry about trade rumors. Right now, we're here, and our job is to help the Nationals."

On Monday, the second inning squelched their chances. Before the frame's first out came one visit to the mound from pitching coach Steve McCatty, two defensive gaffes, three walks and four runs.

Martin yielded a single and consecutive walks to load the bases. ("Ridiculous," Martin said.) Harris turned a single into a double by bobbling Drew Stubbs's bases-loaded liner and then firing an errant relay throw in the general direction of Cristian Guzmán. ("Just a bad throw," Harris said.) After another walk loaded the bases again, Johnny Cueto ripped a hard grounder at Guzmán, whose sidesaddle attempt could not corral the ball. The single scored two more runs and brought McCatty out for a chat.

Martin had trouble throwing his curveball for strikes, which forced him to rely too heavily on his high-80s fastball. "I don't really feel like I had much of anything today," Martin said.

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