Last night's loss to Atlanta left Washington 3-11 against their divisional rivals in 2013. Eight of the eleven losses have been by two runs or less. All three wins as well. Add to that the fact that the Nationals have dropped all six games with the Braves in the nation's capital, getting swept in the first two of the three series the teams will play in D.C. this season and you can understand the frustration on the part of the defending NL East Champs.
Throw in some HBPs on the Nats' 20-year-old, second-year outfielder in the last four games and you get what you saw last night, when the entire Nationals' bench was up at the railing of the visiting team's dugout in Turner Field barking at the Braves after left-hander Luis Avilan hit Bryce Harper late in the first game of the three-game series in Atlanta.
During last week's three-game set in Washington, it was 22-year-old Braves' right-hander Julio Teheran who hit Harper in the at bat that followed Harper's home run off the pitcher, leading to both benches and bullpens emptying out onto the field. Nationals' manager Davey Johnson addressed the lack of control the opposing pitchers have shown after Atlanta's 3-2 extra innings win last night, telling reporters he hoped nothing was intentional on either Alex Wood or Avila's part.
"I hope not, because it's ridiculous in a close ballgame," the Nats' 70-year-old skipper said, "And they've got a lot more to lose than we do at this point, and so it would be a ridiculous thing to be doing."
Jayson Werth declined to comment publicly on the pitches that connected with Harper's back, but the Nationals' 34-year-old outfielder did express his frustration with the results of the first fourteen contests with the Braves in 2013. "They've played pretty good from start to finish and we haven't," Werth said, "That's really the story of the season so far."
Last night's loss just added to the frustration. Harper made the Braves pay for the first hit-by-pitch, coming around to score the Nationals' first run of the game after left-hander Alex Wood hit the Nats' left fielder with the first pitch of the third. With score still 2-1 Atlanta in the eighth, Ryan Zimmerman doubled with two down. Harper was hit again, this time by Avilan, bringing Werth to the plate. Werth sent an 0-1 fastball from Luis Ayala through the right side to bring Zimmerman in and tie it, but in the bottom of the tenth, Justin Upton hit a walk-off blast on a 2-2 curve from rookie lefty Ian Krol to give the Braves the 3-2 win. At which point the wasted opportunities throughout the game became even more frustrating.
Two on with no one out in the fourth when Ian Desmond hit into a double play. Runners on second and third with one out when Denard Span K'd swinging and Zimmerman grounded out to end the fifth. The Nationals leaving hobbled catcher Wilson Ramos out on the basepaths after a single in the ninth, only to replace him after Chad Tracy's pinch hit single when a pinch runner might have taken third on the play. A one-out walk by Harper in the top of the tenth that was followed by a double play grounder by Werth. All in a game that's decided by one run. It's a tough way to lose. Not to mention the fact that errors figured in each of the first two runs the Braves scored. A fine start by Taylor Jordan was sabotaged by his defense and some strong work by the bullpen came in a losing effort.
"You ain't kidding that one's tough," Davey Johnson told reporters in Turner Field. "We had some opportunities, just didn't capitalize. Jordan pitched great. He was outstanding. We didn't play too good behind him, but he pitched an outstanding six innings. Threw the ball great. Drew Storen threw the ball good, I was glad to see that. Glad he's back, but came close but a little short."
"Close but a little short," might be the official Nationals' motto for the disappointing, loss-filled 2013 campaign. "It's not easy losing that's for sure," Werth acknowledged, "It's kind of been the story of the year so far, we just play good enough to lose."
"We just couldn't get the hit with runners in scoring position, you know," Johnson said. "We had the right guys up a lot of times, just didn't get it done." So what do the 59-62 Nats do now?
"Just keep chugging away," their manager said, "Just keep swinging. Keep being a little more aggressive. That's what you've got to do." Tonight in Turner Field, Stephen Strasburg's on the mound for the visiting team against Braves' lefty Mike Minor, who held the Nats to two runs on eight hits in Atlanta's 3-2 win over Washington last Monday in D.C.