Zach Duke leaves the hill in the fourth inning of his spot start against the Giants on Monday. (Image: Cary Edmondson, USA Today)

Road Trip of Doom Continues, Giants Blank Nats

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Before Monday’s series opener at AT&T Park, the Washington Nationals and San Francisco Giants could be described as having similar 2013 seasons — not bad, but we expected more. After Monday night, only one of them appears to be close to righting the ship.

Brandon Belt went 4-for-5 and scored four times, and Ryan Vogelsong threw five shutout innings to lead the Giants to an 8-0 whitewash of the Nationals that, in a familiar refrain on this road trip, carried further ramifications than just one loss.

Already shorthanded due to Ross Detwiler‘s oblique strain and the spot start made by Zach Duke on Monday, the Nationals bullpen received another blow on Monday when it was revealed that Ryan Mattheus suffered a broken pitching hand after Sunday’s 13-4 loss to the Padres, an injury suffered after Mattheus, frustrated by a one-inning, five-run outing, punched his locker at Petco Park. Reinforcements are on the way from Syracuse, as Yunesky Maya and Fernando Abad will be joining the big club on Tuesday.

The situation the two newcomers are jumping into is one that Nationals fans have seen before — maybe in 2007. Between the injuries to key players, the inconsistent bullpen and the anemic hitting, this year’s Nationals would look right at home at RFK Stadium. Of course, the difference now is that the expectations for the club were so much higher coming into the year, thanks to 2012’s magical 98-win campaign.

Right off the bat Monday, you knew it wasn’t going to be the Nationals’ night. Duke was getting hit, not overly hard, but very consistently. The lefty gave up seven hits in his 3.1 innings, and ended up surrendering four runs after Craig Stammen allowed a pair of inherited runners to score upon entering the game in the fourth inning. Oddly, the first batter Stammen faced was the San Francisco pitcher, Vogelsong, who promptly laid down a safety squeeze bunt to score Belt from third.

Vogelsong had been scuffling entering the game as well, sporting a hefty 8.06 ERA prior to the proceedings. But the struggling Washington lineup, which did include Bryce Harper for the first time since Friday night but was lacking the slumping Danny Espinosa, was just the tonic Vogelsong needed. He gave up three hits over his five scoreless innings and undoubtedly would have pitched longer had he not broken his hand swinging at a Stammen pitch in the fifth.

It was academic from there. Washington was able to put just one runner on base against four San Francisco relievers over the next four innings, while the Nats bullpen got taxed to the breaking point. Henry Rodriguez, who appeared for an inning in Sunday’s mess, needed to get through two innings on Monday and threw 68 pitches in the process, probably 64 or so more than most Nats fans can take from the erratic fireballer in any given game. All that made the double move for pitching necessary, with Eury Perez being sacrificed back down to AAA to make up the numbers.

For all the bad news Nationals fans have been waking up to over the duration of this road trip, it seems nonsensical to see that Washington is “only” 3-5 on the trip so far. The Nats have a chance to start a new streak on Tuesday, as Stephen Strasburg (2-5, 2.83 ERA) takes the mound coming off his longest start as a big leaguer, an 8-inning win over the Padres on Thursday. Facing him will be San Francisco’s Opening Day starter, Matt Cain (3-2, 5.43). Game time is 10:15 PM Eastern.

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