Over the course of a .500 season, there are plenty of false starts — stretches of small winning streaks where fans and players alike begin to think, “Maybe this is the beginning of a hot stretch,” only to see the team fail to keep the momentum going with an end result of perpetually treading water.
Add one more such occurrence to the Washington Nationals 2013 checklist.
After capturing the first two games of this weekend’s four-game set against Colorado with dominating pitching, the Nationals once again teased fans into thinking a winning streak was nigh. Instead, the team fell back below .500 with a pair of underwhelming performances, Sunday’s a 7-6 not-quite comeback loss at Nationals Park.
The Nationals were buoyed before Sunday’s contest by the sight of Bryce Harper, now just days away from a rehab assignment, crushing balls all over Nats Park during a spirited batting practice round. While Harper’s imminent return can only help, on Sunday Washington needed a return to pre-injury form from Ross Detwiler — and instead got the lefty’s worst outing of the year.
Making his third start since coming off the disabled list, Detwiler surrendered seven runs on nine hits and didn’t get out of the fourth inning, putting the Nationals in a 7-0 hole. Perhaps the most interesting thing to take away from the outing came from the post-game when Washington manager Davey Johnson and Detwiler gave convergent viewpoints as to the cause of Detwiler’s Sunday struggle.
“It’s sequence pitching. He has been relying basically on his fastball,” Johnson told Bill Ladson of MLB.com. “[The Rockies] are a good fastball-hitting club. You don’t hit your spots … they are going to hurt you.”
Detwiler didn’t seem to think it was as bad as the score indicated.
“There were two hard-hit balls and everything else just fell in,” Detwiler told MLB.com.
Regardless, when the curtain fell on Detwiler’s day, his teammates would have to mount their largest comeback of the season to avoid splitting the series. The main culprit, from the Rockies standpoint, was Michael Cuddyer. The Virginia native homered in the second to open the scoring and extend his hitting streak to 20 games. He then drove in another run with a single in the third and capped the Rockies day with a two-run single in the fourth off Craig Stammen, summoned to stop the bleeding after Detwiler’s early exit.
Aside from that blemish, the Washington bullpen was spotless. Stammen, Ian Krol and Fernando Abad churned through 5 1/3 scoreless innings, eventually setting the stage for the Nationals to get serious about overturning the deficit.
A pair of fourth-inning runs got Washington on the board, but it wasn’t until the eighth that the rumblings of a comeback became serious. Back-to-back two-out hits by Ryan Zimmerman and pinch-hitter Jhonatan Solano each drove in a pair of runs, and suddenly Washington trailed only 7-6. Not only that, but Ian Desmond, the Nationals’ hottest hitter, was due up with the tying run on second base. It wasn’t meant to be however, as Rockies closer Rex Brothers fanned Desmond and then set Washington down in order in the ninth.
Detwiler wasn’t the only Washington player to leave the game early. Jayson Werth, one day after sitting out with flu-like symptoms, left the game with a left groin injury in the fourth inning. With an off-day on Monday, Werth was hopeful he wouldn’t miss any more time. One Nat who will miss time is Dan Haren, placed on the 15-day disabled list one day after yet another insipid outing. While Ross Ohlendorf appeared to be the natural replacement, Johnson likes having Ohlendorf as the long man in the bullpen, partly since it keeps the rest of the pen members in their preferred roles. The Nats could skip Haren’s spot when it comes up or turn it over to someone from the minor leagues, perhaps Taylor Jordan, who is tearing it up at AA Harrisburg.
In any case, Washington gets to rest on Monday. Tuesday brings another NL West opponent to Nats Park, as the Arizona Diamondbacks come to town. Gio Gonzalez (3-3, 3.34 ERA) will pitch for Washington against Arizona’s Trevor Cahill (3-8, 3.92).