It can't be easy for the defending NL East Champion Washington Nationals right now. Picked by many to take the next step and go from last October's postseason appearance to a run at a World Series crown, they find themselves a game under .500 at 48-49 in third place in the division with 65 games left on the schedule. They got another strong start from one of their "Big Three" in Saturday night's loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers, but went 1 for 12 with runner in scoring position in what ended up a 3-1 game. "That was a tough one," Nats' skipper Davey Johnson said afterwards. "We had several opportunities."
The best one came early in the second game of three with the surging NL West team from LA. Dodgers' starter Zack Greinke loaded the bases with one down in the home-half of the first, then popped Jayson Werth up with a full-count fastball and Ian Desmond up with an 0-1 curve to end a 24-pitch inning. Chad Tracy's leadoff double in the second led nowhere. Werth and Desmond lined and flew out, respectively after Ryan Zimmerman and Bryce Harper hit back-to-back, one-out singles in the third. The Nationals scored their only run of the night on a broken-bat, two-out, pinch hit single by Roger Bernadina in the bottom of the sixth, but the Dodgers came right bat to tie it up at 1-1 in the seventh.
The game went to extra innings with the score still tied at 1-1, but Craig Stammen surrendered back-to-back doubles by Adrian Gonzalez (1 for 5) and Hanley Ramirez (3 for 5) in the first two at bats in the tenth with Ramirez's two-base hit driving in the go-ahead run. Ramirez then scored on a sac fly that gave Los Angeles a 3-1 lead after nine and a half. Gonzalez hit an opposite field line drive to left on a 2-2 curve. Ramirez hit a 1-0 slider to center for his fourth hit in nine at bats in Nationals Park so far this weekend.
"It's all about making pitches," Davey Johnson said referring to Stammen's struggles. The Nats' skipper didn't think the pitch to Gonzalez was a bad one, but, he said, Stammen "... kind of hung a pitch up there to Ramirez and he smoked it."
Asked how the team was handling the way this season's going, Johnson admitted that it's not easy to keep struggling like the Nationals have, but there's one way to lift everyone's spirits. "The only thing that helps morale is when you do things that you're capable of doing. It's kind hard to be happy if you're not doing what you're capable of doing. I mean, there's not going to be any loud music and jumping up and down. The only cure for it is to go out and express that talent. Go out and make it happen."
What can the Nationals' hitter do to turn it around? "Just keep swinging," the former major league infielder in his 17th season as a manager explained, "Just keep swinging. I mean, it's frustrating."
Johnson wasn't entertaining any thoughts about the blame falling on his hitting coach, Rick Eckstein, however.
"How's Rick Eckstein taking it," a reporter asked, "And is he in trouble?"
"He's not in trouble with me," Johnson said "I think he's a great hitting coach and I believe in what he teaches. He's the best I've had, [best] hitting instructor. But he takes it harder than anybody. He works harder and he does more than anybody trying to help people. But, we're still young."
Johnson talks hitting with his team as well, of course. "I talk to [Desmond] sometimes," Johnson said, "Desi expands the zone when the other pitcher is in trouble. That's when you narrow it down. And he knows that. And he's getting better on that.
"He had a good at bat. Not the first time when the bases were loaded -- he took a curve ball, then a cutter off the plate up and he hit it over there [to second]. He's in a jam and an aggressive hitter like him they know he's looking to swing the bat early and they'll make borderline pitches to have him hit those early and if you're patient and take them then they have to come to you. Jayson Werth's, I think, Greinke made some good pitches. The umpire all night long was pretty much calling the low strike. I can't tell the ones that are cutting off the plate or whatever. But we got in great hitting counts and we didn't do nothing and that's what's frustrating."
"When we get really ahead in the count and then we can cherry pick," Johnson explained, "we're either making it too fine or not putting it hard in play. That's been kind of what we've been doing all year."
More from Federal Baseball:
- Nats Nightly - Nationals Lose 3-1 To Dodgers In D.C.
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- Dodgers 3-1 Over Nationals In Extra Innings: Hanley Ramirez 10th Inning Double Wins It
- Nationals' Gio Gonzalez vs The Dodgers' Zack Greinke Tonight In D.C.
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