MILWAUKEE — Wednesday afternoon, in the corner of a quiet clubhouse, Jayson Werth sat in a chair, left knee wrapped in ice, hand on his chin. With a 6-4 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers, the Washington Nationals had sunk to their lowest point of the season and completed a trip that Manager Jim Riggleman classified, unsparingly and accurately, like this: “terrible.”
Werth considered how the Nationals might extricate themselves from their rut, now at five straight losses and seven out of eight games. Later, he would state the obvious. “Things,” he said, “need to change.”
First, he offered a provocative, cryptic response that perhaps hinted at deeper issues within the Nationals than simply hitting and pitching. “I’ve got some ideas obviously, and some thoughts, none I really want to share with the world,” Werth said. “I think it’s pretty obvious what’s going on around here.”
Asked to elaborate, Werth added only: “I’m not really going to get into it right now. It is what it is. It’s unfortunate. We’re a way better ballclub.”
Even after their abysmal 1-7 trip dropped them to 21-28, the Nationals insisted they’re better than their place in the standings. Five of the Nationals’ seven losses on their ruinous road swing came by three runs or less.
They were outscored on the trip 42-34, barely more than a run per game, but then again, they scored half of those runs in their only win.
Close losses still count the same as blowouts in the standings, though, and their frequency has started to sting.
“We have been close the whole time,” Werth said. “We just can’t get over the hump. We get right there, and we have opportunities, we have chances to win games. We don’t win them, and we should.
“Good ballclubs are resilient. Good players are resilient, bounce back. I believe in these guys in here. We’ve got a great group of guys. We have a lot of talent. We just need to keep going. A lot of these guys are kind of still learning. We’ve got to make sure they continue to develop, regardless of if we’re winning or losing. I think that’s important for the future of this club. But things need to change.”
The Nationals’ latest loss came at the hands of Zack Greinke, the former Cy Young winner who this winter deemed the Nationals unworthy of his services.
In the first meeting since Greinke nixed a trade to Washington in December, Greinke allowed five hits and a walk and struck out 10 in seven innings. But his bat hurt just as much as his electric right arm.
Greinke led off the fifth inning, the score tied at 3 after Michael Morse’s three-run blast in the fourth. Greinke played his first seven years in the American League with the Kansas City Royals, but several teams considered drafting him as a third base prospect out of Apopka High in Florida. When Jason Marquis threw Greinke an inside sinker, he turned on it and walloped it into the second deck, just inside the left field foul pole, to give the Brewers a 4-3 lead.
“Just trying to throw a first-pitch heater,” Marquis said. “I left it up a little bit. I know he’s a pretty good athlete. It happens.”
The Brewers extended their edge in the seventh when Prince Fielder shot a single through the left side against Sean Burnett, Fielder’s fourth RBI of the game. The Brewers would need it — in the eighth, Laynce Nix scored Roger Bernadina, who moved to third on a single by Werth, with a sac fly to left.
Before the rally ended, the Nationals had a chance to tie the score. After Nix’s sac fly, Brewers Manager Ron Roenicke removed LaTroy Hawkins for Kameron Loe. He had summoned his best reliever to face the Nationals’ hottest hitter at the moment. Morse had already hit a home run, and he came to the plate 10 for 21 with five homers in his career at Miller Park. Loe threw Morse two sinkers and a slider, and Morse struck out on three pitches.
The Brewers scored multiple runs in the first inning each game this series, taking a 2-0 lead Wednesday when Fielder crushed a double off the right-center field fence. Marquis had thrown him a slider, “not the way I normally attack him,” Marquis said.
The Nationals had started toward another loss. When they left home eight days ago, the Nationals sat one win away from a .500 record. Now, only three teams in the major leagues have a worse record than the Nationals.
“Not a good trip,” Jerry Hairston said. “We just got to put it together. That’s just plain and simple. We just got to find a way to play better.”