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Nats' bad day ends with 9-1 loss to the Cubs

By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 24, 2010; 12:36 AM

By the standard of baseball's 162-game grind, there are not many more days left in this Washington Nationals season, so Monday will still probably hold the title of year's grimmest by the end. In the evening, they announced Stephen Strasburg's return to the disabled list. Then, they were pummeled by one of the few teams with fewer wins than themselves and extended their scoreless streak, at one point, to 15 innings. Tuesday should be better, because it can't be much worse.

The Chicago Cubs, with a rookie making his second start the day after former manager Lou Piniella abruptly retired, arrived at Nationals Park with little reason for optimism. They found one in their opponent, crushing the Nationals, 9-1, before 17,921 at Nationals Park. As Casey Coleman oppressed them for 61/3 innings, the Nationals finished with three hits, the Cubs with 15.

Manager Jim Riggleman felt a malaise over his team, the long innings sapping their effort and energy. Afterward, he addressed his players in the hopes the final six weeks of the season in no way resemble Monday night.

"I let them know we've just got to play with more energy," Riggleman said. "Even though the game is flattening us out because we're out there on the field a long time, we've got to find a way. We've just got to turn it up a notch.

"I've got to tell you, our guys play hard. They play with intensity. But it's a 162-game schedule and you've got to play 162 games. Tonight, I felt like we allowed the game situation - the long innings and stuff, our body language on the field - it allowed us to have an aura hanging over us of, 'It's just not happening for us tonight.' I guess it's going to happen a time or two a year, and when it happens it gets addressed."

Starter Livan Hernandez offered the lone performance worth remembering on the Nationals' side, and only because of its strange mix of stamina and inefficiency. Hernandez allowed seven earned runs in 41/3 innings and threw 121 pitches, fourth-most in a start lasting fewer than five innings since they started counting in 1952.

But his start included coming out for the fifth inning having thrown 104 pitches and not leaving until he had loaded the bases and surrendered an RBI single to the opposing pitcher, Coleman's first career hit. "We lost," Hernandez said, "because I pitched bad."

The Nationals remained stuck in what started a downslide in mid-May and became simply their reality. The Nationals have lost 11 of 15, 22 of 35 and 57 of 90. Since May 15 - which spans more than half the season - the Nationals are 33-57, the third-worst in the majors, only a half-game better than the Baltimore Orioles. They're on pace for 68 wins.

"Right now, things aren't going our way," center field Nyjer Morgan said. "I think everyone is still upbeat. It's not like the whole morale is down. It just sucks getting our [butts] whipped like that in front of our home crowd. We've got to come together as a unit and really try to finish this thing off strong and not give up on ourselves even though the thing is kind of crumbling right now.

"We've got to be true professionals right now and show what we're made of. It's snowballing, but we can't let the snowball get any bigger."

Before Monday night Hernandez had been excellent, allowing seven earned runs combined in his last four starts, but his start came undone in the cover-your-eyes third inning. Hernandez allowed a leadoff home run to Blake DeWitt, which Starlin Castro followed with a single and a caught stealing.

The Nationals' night eroded from there. Hernandez hit Marlon Byrd, walked Aramis Ramirez and hit Xavier Nady to load the bases without a ball being put in play. Tyler Colvin's single scored two of the runners. One-time National Alfonso Soriano provided the game's signature moment when he lofted a ball down the right field line. Willie Harris sprinted from deep right and dove.

The ball missed his glove and bounced over Harris. Harris lay on the ground as second baseman Adam Kennedy chased the ball all the way into the corner.

"I could hardly breathe," Harris said. "I got the wind knocked out of me."

While Harris caught his breath and Kennedy retrieved the ball, three runners scored, Soriano had a triple and Cubs interim manager Mike Quade could start to relish his first win. The Nats trailed 5-0 at the end of the inning, which took Hernandez 44 pitches.

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