“These are two big losses and I had my hand in both of them,” he said. “Obviously we had a good opportunity to win the game the last two nights. We need to continue to play like we’re playing because I feel like we’re playing pretty good ball. It’s just disappointing we didn’t get these. Time isn’t on our side.”
The Nationals had a chance in both games against the Cardinals to make up ground against the Mets. Had they held both leads late and won, the Nationals could be sitting 4 1/2 games behind. Instead, they fell again to 6 1/2 back with 31 games left. Janssen was a reason on both nights but it would be too simple to pin both losses on him. There are many performances, mistakes and decisions that, yet again, led to another gut-wrenching defeat.
A starter who didn’t use rosin to help his grip on a humid night. A third baseman who couldn’t catch two catchable throws. A setup man who hit a batter and then threw to third base on a sacrifice bunt. Another setup man who failed to get one final strike. A manager who saved his best reliever for a lead that never came. A look back:
>>> Joe Ross doesn’t use rosin, instead wiping his fingers on his pants. But on a humid Tuesday night in St. Louis, even his pants were damp. He couldn’t grip the ball and that hurt his command. He walked six batters, including three in a row in the third inning. Ross said he will use rosin in the future.
“First time I’ve pitched here and it’s humid like this,” he said. “Something I’ve got to work on. … It’s not something I’ve done in the past but when it gets like this it’s something you’ve got to do to keep your hand dry and keep a good grip on the ball.”
During his 2-2/3 inning, six-walk struggle, Ross got only one mound visit from Steve McCatty — after he walked Matt Carpenter with one out in the third inning. Only after the fourth walk of the game, of Jason Heyward to put two on, did the Nationals get Doug Fister warming.
Converted starters take longer than full-time relievers to warm up. It took Fister two batters to get ready. Ross walked Yadier Molina and Kolten Wong, driving in a run, and then he was finally replaced by Fister. A 4-0 game turned quickly into a 4-2 game.
Perhaps the Nationals could have gotten a quick-warming reliever into the game to get the final out before Ross’s final walk. The pitcher’s spot was due up the next inning so a pinch hitter could have been used, too. But even then, the reliever would have had only one or two batters to get warm, and that’s quick for anyone. The Nationals could have stalled more.
Fister warmed up as fast as he could, and even then it wasn’t enough. His second pitch hit Matt Reynolds, sending home another run. The Nationals lead had been reduced to 4-3.
>>> The Nationals took a 4-0 lead on rookie Marco Gonzales and chased him from the game in third inning. But after that, they scored only one more run. They had the bases loaded with one out in the seventh inning when Yunel Escobar’s groundout drove in a run but added the inning’s second out. Ian Desmond, 0-for-5 Tuesday, grounded out to end the threat.
Bryce Harper had a leadoff double in the fifth inning but was stranded after two strikeouts and a pop-out. Harper walked with one out in the ninth, but Ryan Zimmerman grounded out, Escobar singled and then Desmond flied out to center to end another threat.
“We’ve got to keep the pedal down and keep going,” Harper said. “We can’t score any more runs and you saw what happened tonight. The Cardinals are a great team. They capitalize on mistakes.”
>>> Escobar missed two catchable balls. Neither throw was perfect, but in a tight game need to be made. During the Cardinals’ sixth-inning threat, catcher Wilson Ramos aggressively went to third base on a sacrifice bunt to get the lead runner. But Ramos’s throw bounced once in the dirt to the right of the bag.
Ramos should have made a better throw but Escobar had a chance to stop it. During the eighth inning implosion, Drew Storen threw the ball to third base, too, on a sacrifice bunt. The throw was much better than Ramos’s and only a tad to the side of the bag. Escobar, in his first season playing third, had his right foot on the bag and his left foot toward second. He appeared to deflect the ball but not catch it. A run scored on the error and the Nationals’ lead was down to one.
“I think if it’s a good throw he’s got it,” Manager Matt Williams said. “It’s the proper call from [catcher Jose Lobaton] in that situation. He let him know that he had a play at third and yanked it a little bit. If it’s on the money, he’s got him.”
Storen disagreed: “I threw it right over the bag. I had no issues there.” In a follow-up question about whether the play at third should have been made, Storen said: “I don’t know. Like I said, I just turned and put it over the bag. I don’t know. I didn’t try to gun it over there too much. I don’t know. I’m not on the other side of that.”
After the play, Storen looked up at the sky and then ran behind home plate. Escobar didn’t chase after the ball fast enough.
Could Williams have made defensive substitutions before then, and brought in Danny Espinosa at second and moved Anthony Rendon to third? That way the Nationals would have had their best defensive infield while clinging to a two-run lead in the eighth.
The larger question is the play itself: Was going to third base in that situation the right call? Tommy Pham, who was on second, appeared to beat the play anyway. The sacrifice bunt was hit on the third base side of the bag. First base still seemed like a safer option. Williams said, however, Lobaton made the proper call in the situation and the throw was the issue.
“It’s a judgment call,” Storen said. “You see how it comes off the bat and then Lobi’s telling me three so you just, at that point, turn and go. Going out to it, like I said, you really count on a catcher and kind of your instinct too where you know where you’re gonna go. So if you’re gonna go, you gotta go three.”
>>> After Storen coughed up the two-run lead in the eighth, Williams had three arms left in the bullpen: Janssen, closer Jonathan Papelbon and left-handed reliever Sammy Solis. Solis had warmed up earlier but, Williams admitted after the game, he was the multi-inning extra-inning option. Janssen had thrown 26 pitches on Monday night and still the Nationals went to him.
“I felt good enough to pitch,” Janssen said. “I love the opportunity. I always try to be available as much as I can. Out on the mound, I felt fine. I was in the flow of the game. Whatever soreness I did or didn’t have, the energy of the place and the intensity of the game took care of everything else.
But Janssen admitted that his arm dragged on the final pitch of the game, which is often a sign of fatigue. In two games, he threw 47 pitches. So why not use Papelbon in a tie game on the road?
“We want him closing games out,” Williams said. “We’re down to two guys. We need a one-inning guy there because we’re going to have to hit for the pitcher anyway and we’re gonna have to go long with Sammy in that regard. We had an opportunity against Pham. But walked him and [Brandon] Moss hit the ball.”
Many managers wouldn’t use their closer in a tie game on the road. They save their closer for a lead. Whether that’s a sound tactic or not, the Nationals are in a must-win situation to make the playoffs. This is a good chance to break convention. It should be an all hands on deck for the final month. A double switch could have avoided the pitcher’s spot in the 10th.
>>> Because of all the pitchers used in Tuesday’s loss, the Nationals may have to call up more relievers on Wednesday. But there’s a deeper question for General Manager Mike Rizzo about the roster and, like much of the season, the bullpen: On the first day of roster expansion, the Nationals called up only one pitcher, Solis. Tanner Roark won’t arrive until later in the week. But what about others?
Taylor Jordan pitched on Tuesday night for Class AAA Syracuse so he is ruled out. A.J. Cole pitched on Sunday so he wouldn’t exactly be available. But what about Matt Grace, Taylor Hill, Abel De Los Santos or Rafael Martin? They have all had uneven stints in the majors but would have given Williams more options late in the game. And that way, he wasn’t left simply with a choice of Papelbon, Solis and Janssen (on a high pitch count).
Syracuse 7, Buffalo 1: Taylor Jordan fired five scoreless innings. He allowed only three hits and three walks. Bruce Billings went three scoreless. Matt Skole homered twice and drove in four runs. Kevin Keyes also homered.
Harrisburg 5, Richmond 0: Austin Voth tossed seven scoreless innings, striking out four and allowing only three hits. Christopher Bostick went 3 for 4 with a home run and two RBI. Brian Goodwin had two hits.
Potomac 4, Myrtle Beach 3: Ian Dickson walked eight of the 18 batters he faced. Robert Orlan relieved him and walked five batters. Grant DeBruin went 0 for 1 but walked twice and scored a run.
Hagerstown 6, Kannapolis 0: Andrew Lee tossed 4 2/3 scoreless innings and Mario Sanchez added 3 1/3 scoreless innings. Austin Davidson homered. Osvaldo Abreu and Bryan Mejia each had two hits.
Auburn 8, Williamsport 4: Joan Baez allowed three runs over five innings. Victor Robles was hit by three pitches and scored two runs despite no official at-bats. Max Schrock went 3 for 5 with a home run and three RBI.