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Nationals blow another late lead, drop sixth-straight game to NL East-leading Mets

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Washington Nationals' reliever Drew Storen gave up the go-ahead home run on a hanging slider to Yoenis Cespedes in the eighth, a night after he melted down in a rough seventh inning in the second loss of three to the New York Mets this week.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

After Drew Storen's nightmarish 22-pitch, seven-strike, three-walk outing in Tuesday's loss to the division-leading New York Mets, Washington Nationals' manager Matt Williams talked about wanting to give the 28-year-old right-hander a chance to get back on the mound and put the appearance behind him.

"He's a professional pitcher and been asked to close very tight games for us," Williams said. "He's confident and we're confident in him. So we'll get him back out there as quickly as possible."

That opportunity came tonight.

"He's in there to face the righty and get the righty out," Williams said. "Didn't happen, he hung a slider and he hit a homer." -Matt Williams on Drew Storen giving up HR to Yoenis Cespedes

Stephen Strasburg put together an impressive performance in his return from an upper back issue, striking out 12 batters in seven innings in which he gave up just one run on a solo home run by Travis d'Arnaud.

Strasburg came back out for the eighth, however, with the score 2-1 in the Nationals' favor and gave up a pinch hit home run on a 2-0 pitch to Kelly Johnson that ended up soaring out to right field, tying it up at 2-2.

Strasburg struck Kirk Nieuwenhuis out for his 13th K, but a one-out single to center by Curtis Granderson prompted Williams to go to the bullpen for Storen.

Two pitches later, it was a 4-2 game after Yoenis Cespedes crushed a hanging 1-0 slider and hit a two-run home run into the left field bullpen to drive in the 14th and 15th earned runs Storen has allowed in his last 14 innings of work.

On Tuesday night, Williams talked about what's been wrong with Storen over the last few weeks and he summed it up pretty succinctly.

"For me it's been not throwing the ball where he wants to," Williams said.

"Breaking balls up in the strike zone have been part of the issue. And tonight he just missed. Just missed with those pitches."

And it was a hanging slider again on Wednesday that Cespedes crushed.

"He's in there to face the righty and get the righty out," Williams said. "Didn't happen, he hung a slider and he hit a homer."

Williams told reporters he didn't think it was anything physically wrong with Storen.

"Tonight is just a pitch he hung in the middle of the plate," he said. "So he gave up a homer. It happens in this game. If he made a pitch down and away he may get that double play ball, but he hung it up in the middle of the plate."

The second-year skipper said he saw an opportunity to get Storen back out there and have some success.

"Our whole bullpen has been beat up pretty good," he explained.

"Tonight is just a pitch he hung in the middle of the plate. So he gave up a homer... If he made a pitch down and away he may get that double play ball..." -Matt Williams on Drew Storen vs Yoenis Cespedes

"That's why we let Stephen get in the eighth and he's pitching well, unfortunately got behind Kelly and he hit a homer to tie it. He worked through Nieuwenhuis but Granderson got on and we've got to get Drew for Cespedes."

Cespedes, of course, hit a base-clearing double off Storen in Tuesday's loss as well, getting the Mets within run before Storen walked in the run that tied it.

As NatsInsider.com's Mark Zuckerman noted on Twitter, in the Nationals' last five losses, "...they led entering the [sixth] inning or later."

"Our bullpen is one of our strengths generally and it hasn't been over those five games that you mentioned," Williams told a reporter who brought up that fact.

"On the flip-side of that the four previous, the bullpen did a pretty good job," Williams said. "So, it's tough. I feel for those guys getting out there and giving up runs because they're not intending to, that's for sure."

Talking about the loss, and Storen's struggles, Ian Desmond told reporters that it has been tough to watch:

"I feel for the guy. But like I said, the game doesn't stop for anybody. I don't care how good or bad you are, the game is going to keep on moving on, so you've just got to keep your head up and keep on pushing forward, because otherwise it will swallow you right up."

It was the Nationals' sixth straight loss to the Mets, who left the nation's capital with a 7.0 game lead in the division with 23 games left for each team.

New York's manager, Terry Collins, was asked what statement the sweep of the Nationals sent?

"That we're legitimate," he said. "That this is not a fluke."

Desmond said that on the other end, the sweep was "pretty devastating".

"Put ourselves in a good position coming into this series," he said. "Obviously not where we'd like to be, but we gave ourselves a chance. Obviously a lot more optimistic coming into this series than I guess 'exiting' it."

Asked if it was over with the Nationals now 7.0 out, he said, "No."

"I mean, until the numbers tell you that it's over it's not over. We've still got jobs to do and can prepare for tomorrow and try to put our best foot forward tomorrow."

The Nationals actually have tomorrow off, but on Friday they start a three-game set with the Marlins and a six-game road trip to Miami and Philadelphia.