The Washington Nationals’ two recent losing battles — against the National League and the weather — continued in vain Thursday at soggy Nationals Park, where the Nationals lost Game 1 of a doubleheader, 7-4, to the Los Angeles Dodgers before they watched rain wash out the second game, almost certainly for good.
The Nationals canceled Thursday’s second game, originally scheduled for Wednesday, and it will be made up only if the Dodgers remain in playoff contention at the end of the season. Barring that unlikely development — the Dodgers were 111 / 2 games out in the NL West lead entering Thursday night — the Nationals will play only 161 games this season.
The Nationals will skip Thursday’s scheduled starter, left-hander Ross Detwiler, in order to keep their rotation intact for the weekend. Stephen Strasburg will make his start Sunday at Nationals Park against the Astros as originally planned, with Tom Milone pitching Friday and John Lannan starting Saturday.
Strasburg pitching Sunday keeps him on schedule to start Sept. 16 at Nationals Park, too, allowing his first three starts back from Tommy John surgery to come at home.
The Dodgers do not come back to the East Coast again this season, which is why the teams will not attempt to reschedule the game unless it is necessary. The Nationals have dealt with rainouts constantly this season.
“The weather has been tricky,” General Manager Mike Rizzo said. “There’s a lot of decisions that go into canceling a game. There are personnel decisions. There are team decisions. There’s MLB decisions. I felt we did a good job of getting in as many games as we could.”
The Nationals lost Thursday afternoon’s game, in part, because their two-week backslide had turned Drew Storen from pitcher to observer. As they lost 11 times in the 14 games before Thursday, and Storen pitched only twice. The closer is marginalized — and made rusty — when there aren’t any wins to save.
Storen changed a tie game in the ninth inning into a 7-4 loss to the Dodgers. The Nationals dropped to 65-76, a season-worst 11 games under .500. They are now closer to the last-place Florida Marlins (21 / 2 games) than the third-place New York Mets (four games) in the NL East. Their 12th loss in 15 games arrived when Dodgers outfielder Tony Gwynn Jr. roped a two-out, two-run double over Jayson Werth’s head in center field. Storen did not use his layoff as an alibi — “I’m not going to sit here and make excuses,” he said — but it probably contributed.
“It’s just one of those outings,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “He hadn’t had a whole lot of regular work here the last part of the year.”
Werth hit his 19th home run this season, a two-run blast to left in the third inning that tied the game at 4. The Nationals scored four runs on five hits and knocked out Dodgers starter Chad Billingsley in the third. But their offense did not a produce a hit either before or after that inning.
The Dodgers took a 4-0 lead by scoring two runs off Chien-Ming Wang in the first and third innings. But Wang followed his recent pattern and settled down, retiring 10 of the last 11 batters he faced.
So the game remained tied when Storen returned to the mound for the third time in 16 days. His last save chance came Aug. 28 in Cincinnati, when Storen allowed a game-trying home run in the top of the ninth. He waited a week before he pitched again, and he had three days off before Johnson summoned him to pitch the ninth in the 4-4 game.
Rust showed. Storen drilled the second batter he faced, Jerry Sands, in the shoulder with a 97-mph fastball. Storen lost control of his next pitch, too, a slider that slipped out of his hand and nearly hit Rod Barajas in the head. Barajas later flared a broken-bat single to left field.
Storen struck out Trent Oeltjen, but then Gwynn ripped a high, first-pitch fastball to the warning track in center. Both runs scored. Storen’s outing devolved from there, with Dee Gordon rolling a seeing-eye single up the middle. After he went to a 3-0 count on Jamey Carroll, pitching coach Steve McCatty trudged to the mound.
When Storen walked Carroll, Johnson replaced him. Storen stared ahead, lips pursed and eyes down. Storen had not been pulled in the middle of an inning since June 5 in Arizona.
“I just didn’t get it done,” Storen said. “Regardless of whether I’ve pitched in a month, I should be able to go out there and throw strikes. Just one of those days.”
The Nationals fell behind early on and entered the third trailing by four. Ian Desmond began a rally by lashing a single to left. Ryan Zimmerman scored him with a one-out double to right-center, and Michael Morse followed with another double to left-center. Up came Werth. He drilled a 2-1, hanging slider high and deep to left, and a strong wind helped push the ball about 10 rows over the left field fence.
Rick Ankiel followed with a bloop double to the right field line, which knocked Billingsley out of the game after 74 pitches and only 21 / 3 innings. But the Nationals could not manage one hit off the Dodgers’ bullpen. Later, they couldn’t beat Mother Nature again.
“It’s just been weird, you know?” Storen said. “It’s just part of the job, though. You can’t really control the weather.”