DENVER — By the time the Washington Nationals and Colorado Rockies resumed play Tuesday night, it was almost Wednesday morning on the East Coast. The temperature had dropped nearly 30 degrees from when rain stopped play two hours before. Both starting pitchers allowed two runs in the three antediluvian innings, but neither returned after two idle hours. Rain reduced the game to six-inning test of late-night will.
The Rockies outlasted the weather and their visitors, beating up on the Nationals’ bullpen, which was required for five innings of work for the second consecutive evening — all of them after 125 minutes of waiting for the end of that powerful storm. The bullpen was somewhat bruised to begin with and the Rockies took advantage, delivering the Nationals a 6-2 loss.
Before the game, and early in this series, Nationals Manager Dusty Baker talked about the challenges Coors Field presents to a pitching staff. The adjusted goal for games played here is for starters to maintain a steady ERA, and for the bullpen to emerge healthy, unhindered by too much fatigue. After another grueling evening Tuesday, they will have to claw for a series win Wednesday afternoon without much rest and with an offense that has squandered chances here, and a bullpen trying to make it out intact.
“That was the wrong time to have a rain delay,” Baker said. “Especially because as it is, as it usually is, a rain delay before a day game.”
Weather threatened the early innings Tuesday, but the game began on time and continued through more and more frequent flashes of lightning and increasingly swirling winds. Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez sat on 99 career wins when the game began. He will have to wait five days to try for 100, because he finished his brief inning after allowing two runs in his three innings of work, striking out two and walking none.
“You never know what you’ll get with Colorado,” Gonzalez said. “It’s already tough enough to pitch here, and you’ve got a storm coming in behind you. It is what it is. Knocked out both starting pitchers, so today’s game was a wash for both of us.”
The Nationals gave Gonzalez a lead in the top of the third, when Jayson Werth singled to extend his on-base streak to a Nationals record 44 games. Daniel Murphy singled behind him, and Bryce Harper and Wilson Ramos drove them each home, respectively.
But then, just as the rain started to fall, Gonzalez allowed a two-run shot to D.J. LeMahieu. By the time it landed, he was 6 for 6 in the series. Two outs later, the grounds crew rolled out the tarp.
“That was the worst time you could have (a delay) because Gio was throwing the ball good,” Baker said. “… it was about too much LeMahieu.”
About two and a half hours later, against Yusmeiro Petit this time, LeMahieu struck again. He tripled off the right field wall in the fifth, his seventh hit in seven at-bats in the series, one that left him a triple away from the cycle. He scored on Nolan Arenado’s ground out. The Nationals walked LeMahieu in his last at-bat.
“He’s seeing the ball pretty good right now,” Gonzalez said. “It seems like there’s nothing you can throw over the plate or around the plate and he’s not going to hit it pretty solid.”
While they are not quite as hot as LeMahieu these days, a one-run deficit in Coors Field hardly seems insurmountable for the Nationals regulars. They mounted their most serious threat in the top of the seventh by putting two men on with one out for Murphy and Harper. Murphy hit a fly ball to left. Harper grounded out to first. The Nationals left nine men on base and went 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position Tuesday night. Monday, they left 10.
“You never want to lose a starter, I think either side when you come here,” Murphy said. “Starters are kind of at a premium here ... but they had to go to the bullpen and we had ample opportunity to try to strike against their bullpen and offensively we weren’t able to do so tonight.”
Petit went three innings and allowed that one run on three hits. Left-hander Oliver Perez came to start the eighth, and after allowing six base runners in 22/3 innings so far in August, he got one out before allowing a double and a walk. That showing forced Baker to call on Blake Treinen.
Treinen allowed a sacrifice fly and a line drive to left field that scored two more runs. Treinen pitched the bottom of the eighth as well. Since he only threw one pitch Monday, Baker went back to him to save other pitchers Tuesday.
He revealed after the game that left-hander Sammy Solis had been unavailable because of what Baker called “soreness,” unwilling to elaborate. Perez has been unsteady. Treinen has worked two days in a row. Petit is likely unavailable Wednesday. The Nationals may need to call for relief reinforcements.
So on an evening the Nationals needed to avoid their bullpen, they could not. In a series in which offensive efficiency looms large, the Nationals have been inefficient. Tuesday, the weather did not help their cause because it forced them to use their bullpen extensively on a day they desperately hoped to avoid it — a perfect baseball storm, so to speak.