And here you thought things were turning around.
After a 36-hour span earlier in the week that saw 23 runs scored and the return of Bryce Harper to the lineup, the Washington Nationals had every reason to be optimistic. Unfortunately, the same troubling issues keep popping up — shaky defense and anemic hitting — with the result Wednesday being the second straight disappointing loss to the struggling Milwaukee Brewers at Nationals Park. Kyle Lohse threw eight stellar innings and the Nats couldn’t hang, dropping a 4-1 decision in the third game of the four-game set.
Just past the halfway point of the season, the Nationals are still flailing away around the .500 mark, seemingly never floating more than two games away from it at any point. And while the team’s fans have been waiting all year for the club to get healthy and the magic of last season to begin anew, a cold reality has started to settle in — what we’re seeing may be what we’re going to continue getting.
“It’s putting me in the looney bin,” said an exasperated Nationals manager Davey Johnson after the game to CSN’s Mark Zuckerman. The team for whom everything went right in 2012 is having the opposite kind of year this time around, even with continued successes from the starting rotation.
Ross Detwiler, Wednesday’s starter, looked to regain his early-season form and matched Lohse’s brilliance early, mixing in more curveballs than he normally throws and putting up four scoreless innings. The Brewers broke through in the fifth, with Sean Halton leading off with a double to left-center. After a bunt single by Logan Schafer that Ryan Zimmerman couldn’t barehand at third base, Lohse sacrificed to put runners on second and third. In a pitcher’s duel, Johnson brought the infield in to no avail, as Norichika Aoki lined a single to center that plated two — and the way the Nationals have been hitting, that seemed like six.
Compounding matters in the sixth was another mystifying fielding error from Harper, who dropped a ball on the warning track on Tuesday night that was ruled a double, but should have been caught. Here, Aramis Ramirez led off the sixth with a liner straight to Harper, who went to one knee to attempt the catch only to see the ball clank off the heel of his mitt for an error. Jonathan Lucroy then singled, but Detwiler was on the verge of getting out of the jam unscathed when he got Rickie Weeks to pop up and fanned Halton.It was Schafer who made him pay, blasting a two-run triple to center to double the Milwaukee advantage.
Meanwhile, Washington could do nothing with Lohse. Anthony Rendon hit his first Nats Park home run in the seventh to get Washington on the board, but that was the only hiccup for Lohse. Francisco Rodriguez worked himself into a small bit of trouble in the ninth, giving up a single to Zimmerman and walking Ian Desmond to bring the tying run to the plate in the person of Rendon. But the rookie couldn’t keep the magic going, flying out to center to end the game and forcing the Nats to win on Thursday morning just to split the series.