This all happened in the first inning.
By the end of the frame, the Nationals had allowed four runs en route to a 7-3 loss, their 11th in 14 games.
“Just one of those innings you want to forget about,” Hellickson said.
The Nationals are 14-22, losers of four straight and seven games behind the NL East-leading Philadelphia Phillies.
“We keep beating ourselves right now,” Manager Dave Martinez said. “We’ve got to come out and just play baseball. We battled back again. But we’ve got to start playing clean baseball, stop giving the other teams 30 outs.”
The loss meant the Nationals were swept for the first time since July, a stretch of 36 series. This three-city, 10-day road trip — on which the Nationals are 1-5 thus far — continues Thursday in Los Angeles with four games against the defending NL champion Dodgers (24-14), who entered their game late Wednesday night with the best home record in baseball at 14-4.
For the Nationals to reach 90 wins this season, they will need to go 76-50 from this point on, a .603 winning percentage equaled or topped over a full season just once in franchise history (2012, .605).
Before the game, a reporter asked Martinez at what point the season could no longer be considered early, when he needed more urgency or to try something different.
“Every day is different. This game is different,” Martinez said. “We’re here today, so for me, let’s go 1-0 today and not worry about what’s happened in the past, because you can’t do nothing about it anyway.”
Martinez echoed the same sentiments in his postgame interview, saying, “Look, we’re going to turn this around.”
Perhaps overshadowed by the continued exasperation at the injuries, bullpen and defense, the offense scored six runs in the three-game set, its lowest total in any series this season. Martinez has preached all along about putting the ball in play and keeping it in the middle of the field, but his hitters struggled to put the bat on the ball at all.
The Nationals struck out 15 times Wednesday, continuing a troubling trend that saw them enter the game with the NL’s second-highest strikeout percentage. The return of Rendon did little to resuscitate the lineup; the slugging third baseman went 0 for 7 with five strikeouts in his first two games since coming off the injured list. When asked how his team could actualize the adjustments he wants, Martinez shouted out second baseman Brian Dozier for changing his approach and going with the ball on two opposite-field hits.
“We’ve just got to look at [Dozier],” Martinez said. “Look, I like home runs, too. Believe me. But sometimes a base hit goes a long way. And it gets the next guy up. . . . I really believe that, especially with guys on base, just move the ball.”
Eaton believed the floundering at the plate came from “bad breaks.” The Nationals are just one of many teams with climbing strikeout rates, he said, pointing at harder-throwing pitchers across the league. Brewers starter Brandon Woodruff and closer Josh Hader both hit 97 mph Wednesday.
“We’re all just trying to touch it,” Eaton said of the hitters. “These [pitchers] have some stupid stuff. . . . That being said, yeah, you have to put the ball in play. But again, a guy throws 98 at your belt-line and [at] your letters, it’s kind of tough to catch up to it.”
The Nationals trailed 7-0 before mounting a small comeback with a run in the sixth and two in the seventh, but even then it was fueled by sacrifice flies from Howie Kendrick and Robles. In the seventh, Wilmer Difo’s RBI single gave the Nationals their only run in the past 20 innings of this series that didn’t come on an out.
The moment most emblematic of this series came in the third. Hellickson fouled a 96-mph fastball off his left ankle and limped halfway down the first base line, where he squatted for several seconds. Athletic trainer Paul Lessard and Martinez jogged out to see him, and they chatted for more than a minute.
The pitcher had already allowed six runs. He was leading off in an inning guaranteed to get back to the top of the lineup. Yet the Nationals didn’t want to burn their bullpen on a game that, recent offensive history suggested, was already gone. So Hellickson shook it off and dug back into the batter’s box.
In the ninth, a surprising Nationals rally brought the tying run to the plate. After an opposite-field Dozier single, an error and a walk loaded the bases with one out, the Brewers countered by bringing in Hader. Then a familiar Achilles’ heel struck again. Pinch hitter Kurt Suzuki struck out. Eaton did, too, after Hader showed him four fastballs at around 94 mph before fooling him with a slider.
After the game, Eaton thought his team’s issues ran deeper than the win column. He believed the team needed to change its approach.
“Better baseball overall needs to happen,” Eaton said. “Even if the wins aren’t coming, at least you’re playing better baseball.”