For the second game in a row, the Washington Nationals got their leadoff hitter around to score in the first inning. And for the second game in a row, it didn’t matter.
After spotting the Nationals their 1-0 lead, the Detroit Tigers showed why they are one of the top teams in baseball, posting a pair of five-run innings against Gio Gonzalez and cruising to a 11-1 victory Wednesday at Comerica Park in the finale of a (thankfully) brief two-game series.
The Nationals lost both games in the set and fell to 52-56 on the season, still 7 1/2 games out of the second wild card spot in the National League. Add in the fact that Ross Ohlendorf and Bryce Harper both left the game with apparent discomfort, and its easy to see why the 20-year-old Harper went off in his post-game comments.
“You’ve got to have heart right now,” Harper said to Mark Zuckerman of CSN. “You’ve got to play as a family, and everybody’s got to want it, starting with the manager on down to everybody. We play the Braves nine games. This s— ain’t over. I really don’t think it’s over. So we’ve just got to keep going, keep grinding and turn into the family that we were last year.
“It all starts with having good camaraderie in the clubhouse, having an upbeat clubhouse every single day, having an upbeat manager and staff every single day, no matter what. We could be 10 games out, but we’ve got two more months. We’ve got two more months of baseball. And if we play like we’re capable, we will win this and we will do it. I know that for a fact, because we’ve got a great team, a great organization and we have guys on this team that are unbelievable.”
While all of that may be true, it didn’t show in Detroit. One day after dropping a 5-1 decision to Anibal Sanchez, the Nats again were stifled by Detroit’s pitching despite a promising start.
Manager Davey Johnson moved Denard Span back to the leadoff spot because of his strong history against Justin Verlander, and the decision looked good early, Span walked, Harper singled, and Ryan Zimmerman then walked to load the bases with no outs. But after a Jayson Werth sacrifice fly, the Nationals stranded the runners and couldn’t scratch anything else across. Echoing a problem that has existed all season, Washington went 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position, with the slumping Adam LaRoche the biggest culprit.
Meanwhile, even without Miguel Cabrera in the lineup, the Tigers have some serious bats, and they were all clicking against Gonzalez. A two-run double by Ramon Santiago and a pair of home runs — a two-run shot by Alex Avila, he of Tuesday’s grand slam, and a solo job by Torii Hunter — led to the first five-run inning against the Nats left-hander, while a walk and five straight singles finally finished his day after 3.1 innings.
When Ross Ohlendorf allowed a Hernan Perez single to push Gonzalez’s ER tally to 10, and then left the game with trainer Lee Kuntz, it might have been past time for any Nationals fans watching to get back to whatever work they had been shunning to take in the weekday matinee. But Ohlendorf felt after the game that he just wasn’t fully recovered from his start on Friday night against the Mets, when he threw 119 pitches.
The rest of the game was uneventful, although Harper’s seventh-inning AB also featured a trainer’s visit and he eventually came out of the game. He said afterwards it was just a hip spasm and doesn’t feel like it’s serious. What is serious, however, is the hole the Nationals are in. Before Washington can get started trying to make up ground with head-to-head match-ups against the division-leading Braves, it faces a weekend series in Milwaukee. Jordan Zimmermann (12-6, 3.19 ERA) returns to his home state looking to shake off some recent clunkers, having struggled in his last two outings. The Brewers pitcher is yet to be announced.