“I say it every day, 27 outs,” Nationals Manager Dave Martinez said. “That’s what it comes down to. I really believe you give good teams 28, 29 outs, bad things are going to happen. As far as the hitting, we’ve got really good hitters, and I know that and we’re going to hit.”
Turner left the clubhouse before reporters could ask him about the error, which is not standard practice, though this loss was not entirely his fault. The Nationals are not hitting, and therein lies the problem. Mistakes such as that one should not be made but can be mitigated when an offense is producing — producing anything at all, really. The Nationals’ offense has produced two runs in its past 18 innings and 11 in its past 47 — or just more than two runs per nine innings.
April is too early for sinking feelings. But whatever comes before that feeling is setting in here. When a lineup is not hitting, concerns follow because, fairly or not, most see offensive production as the byproduct of energy and life. When a team is not hitting, that team looks lifeless. So the Nationals, fairly or not, look lifeless now.
“I was in the clubhouse after the game, and the boys are fired up,” Martinez said. “They’re talking about, hey, we’re going to grind, and we’re going to grind and come back and start winning a bunch of games. And I like that.”
“Grinding” basically means pushing through slumps such as these, which isn’t easy because this kind of slump leaves little margin for error and takes a widespread toll.
A baseball adage says that solo home runs do not hurt a pitcher. Max Scherzer is a particularly vehement proponent of the notion. When an offense isn’t scoring, solo home runs feel bigger, and the margin for error shrinks.
For example, Tanner Roark threw Carlos Gonzalez a 2-0 change-up over the plate that the veteran hit out in the fourth inning for the Rockies’ first hit of the evening.
Normally, starters make a mistake or two like that each night. But at the time, that home run was the difference in the game and left a lineup that had scored four runs in its past 26 innings needing to score one in its next six. That home run also left Roark trailing even though he had allowed the one hit in four innings.
“Just get a little more fight in us,” said Roark, dismissing the notion that he or his teammates would worry about this stretch, “and I think we’ll be okay.”
By that time, the Nationals’ lineup had plenty of chances to score. When things are not going well, chances are hardly consolation as much of a source of frustration. When scoring chances go for naught — such as the two-on, two-out situation they squandered in the first or the two-on, one-out situation that ended with Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman popping out in the third — they feel like indictments of their offensive abilities, not a sign of good at-bats. Harper is 1 for his last 12.
“I think at the plate you get frustrated because you are chasing bad pitches. Got to get a pitch over the plate that I can drive and haven’t done that,” Harper said. “. . . But I think as a team we are having good at-bats, plugging along the best we can.”
By the time the Nationals loaded the bases with one out for Harper in the fifth, they needed the big hit so badly even the crowd could feel it, and much of the lower bowl rose to its feet. At that point, they had scored one run without the help of a home run in 22 innings. Harper hit a sacrifice fly to tie the game.
For that slumping lineup, it might as well have been a grand slam. For the first time in a long time, a scoring chance did not slip away. But the unearned run meant the whole thing went for naught anyway.
When Roark left the game, so did Anthony Rendon in a double-switch. He fouled a ball off his left big toe, and though X-rays were negative, Rendon’s status moving forward is uncertain. The Nationals already are without Adam Eaton and Daniel Murphy, and their offensive struggles are no coincidence. To lose Rendon for any stretch would make their climb back to comfort far more difficult. The last time they had a 2-8 stretch such as this one was 2015. The last time before that was 2013. They did not make the playoffs either season — but, of course, it’s early.