The radio broadcast echoed throughout the concourses and rattled off the empty seats at Nationals Park, narration for the bleak end of the Washington Nationals’ 8-1 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Thursday night. It could be heard out on the field, over the smattering that had come and stayed.
The Nationals’ offense again provided fans little reason to stick around as well as scant support for their pitching staff. In their third straight loss, before an announced crowd of 17,666, the Nationals perpetuated the trend that has recently sunk their offense. They gave themselves ample chances to score, then they frittered them away.
The Nationals went 1 for 16 with runners in scoring position Thursday night, stranding 12 runners in the process. Over their past three games, they have gone 1 for 29 with runners in scoring position and stranded 26 base runners. The dearth of clutch hitting created an abysmal bottom line: The Nationals have scored a run in two out of their past 31 innings, and they scored three runs total in the final three games of their homestand.
“That ain’t good,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “It just seemed like we were a little flat. It usually seems like we want it. I give credit to the opposing pitcher, but I think a lot of it is, we just didn’t go after it. I’ll have a conversation with everyone on the ballclub on this road trip. We’re better than what we showed.”
The Nationals’ bullpen enhanced the ugliness of the final score: usually dominant Tyler Clippard and typically erratic Henry Rodriguez yielded three runs apiece in the eighth and ninth, respectively. The team concluded its 10-game homestand at 5-5 after they had won series against the Cincinnati Reds and Philadelphia Phillies, the loss costing them a winning stay.
The offensive shutdown has also placed undue pressure on the Nationals’ starting rotation. John Lannan allowed two runs in six efficient innings Thursday night, making only one mistake, a letter-high sinker that Chris Young blasted out of the park. With one pitch and he joined Jordan Zimmermann and Livan Hernandez from the previous two days as hard-luck losers.
“It goes without saying, our offense has been a little lacking,” Clippard said. “We’re struggling a little bit offensively. I think starters have been doing a great job, but maybe pressing a little bit because they feel like they can’t give up a run. You just got to turn the page on this homestand and move forward.”
Said Johnson: “When the bats are silent, the pitchers think they’ve got to be a little finer than normal. That’s not good. You get throwing a lot of pitches trying to be too fine.”
The entire Nationals lineup could share in the blame. Thursday night, seven of their nine starters failed at least once to get a hit with a man in scoring position. The Nationals sent a runner to second base with less than two outs in each of the first three innings and could not score. Danny Espinosa and Jonny Gomes each hit led off an inning with a double, only to trot off the bases and into the dugout.
“You put a little bit more pressure on individually, which also gets contagious,” Gomes said. “You find yourself wanting to hit a three-run homer with one guy on. The positive side of it is we’re getting on. This lineup is definitely no slouch.”
The Nationals’ first two losses to the Diamondbacks could be explained by the opposing starters, Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson, who have put their team on their backs as they moved into first place in the National League West. Thursday, the Nationals scored no runs in six innings against Wade Miley, a left-hander in the majors only because Jason Marquis broke his leg after arriving in a trade from the Nationals. Miley had made only one previous start, and in it he allowed five earned runs in four innings.
Lannan finally got to start against a team other than the Phillies, and he continued his strong season. He produced nine groundouts and no outfield fly outs while lowering his season ERA to 3.59. He threw 77 pitches in six innings, and the only lousy one was hit a long way.
With Justin Upton on first base in the sixth, Lannan threw Young an 89-mph sinker. He had used the pitch all game to keep the Diamondbacks pounding balls into the dirt, but this one sailed letter-high. Young unloaded, blasting the pitch about 15 rows deep in the left field seats. Arizona led, 2-0.
Afterward, Lannan could think only about that one pitch. He also dismissed the idea that his offense had affected him.
“You just got to bear down and keep it as close as you can,” Lannan said. “You can only control what you can control. Right now, I’m not thinking about too much what’s going on offensively.”
The Nationals narrowly avoided a shutout for the second straight night. After posting eight zeros before their first run Wednesday night, on Thursday they waited until the seventh inning to score. Ian Desmond led off against reliever Bryan Shaw by taking a 95-mph fastball in the elbow. Brian Bixler singled up the middle, giving the Nationals another scoring chance.
Ryan Zimmerman struck out swinging, but Michael Morse delivered a single to center field. Desmond raced home, saving the Nationals from a shutout and slicing the Diamondbacks’ lead in half, to 2-1.
Morse’s single snapped an 0-for-23 skid for the Nationals with runners in scoring position, but the rally fizzled after sidewinding right-handed Brad Ziegler entered and retired Jayson Werth and Espinosa on pop-ups.
The Nationals had brought themselves just one run away from trying the game, but their bullpen ended the competitive phase of the game. Clippard had pitched 152 / 3 innings since July 20 and allowed one earned run in that span, but the Diamondbacks, led by a mammoth homer by rookie slugger Paul Goldschmidt, tagged him for three runs. Rodriguez followed in the ninth by giving up three more.
The bullpen had robbed the game of any suspense, but the Nationals’ offense had not given them a chance to win.
“Everybody had chances,” Johnson said. “We just didn’t go up there up and do it. I thought we’d been making a lot of progress offensively. Today wasn’t one of our better games.”