Michael Taylor hit a three-run homer, Denard Span made a highlight reel catch, and the Washington Nationals put five runs on the board, but it still wasn’t enough to get them back into the win column, as Gio Gonzalez continued to struggle and the bullpen gave up a lead late.
At first, it looked like Saturday would be a welcome improvement for the Nats. A day after stranding thirteen runners, the Nationals made the most of their opportunities at the plate, and they started early. After Yunel Escobar reached with a two out double in the top of the first inning, Ryan Zimmerman staked the Nats to a 1-0 lead with a single into center.
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The Reds responded in the third. At first, it looked like they would tie the game on the baserunning prowess of Billy Hamilton. Instead, they ended up taking the lead when Joey Votto crushed a ball over the center field wall to give Cincinnati a 2-1 lead.
After a Denard Span single into the gap between left field and center in the top of the fifth tied the game at two, the Nats struck for three in the top of the sixth. Clint Robinson started the rally with a one out single. Two batters later, Danny Espinosa put runners on the corners with a ball that just missed clearing the fence in right field. Then, Michael Taylor turned on a pitch, depositing it into the left field stands for a three run home run and a 5-2 lead.
Cincinnati answered with two runs in the bottom of the frame. Joey Votto drew a leadoff walk, and Todd Frazier moved him to third with a ground-rule double to left center. Jay Bruce drove in the first run with a ground ball to Danny Espinosa. The next run would come on a single to left field by Brayan Pena, cutting Washington’s lead to 5-4 and ending Gio’s day with a line of four runs (all earned) over 5.1 innings with two walks and six strikeouts.
It was up to the Nationals bullpen to bring the game home, but they could not get the ball to Drew Storen. It started out well, with Blake Treinen cleaning up the last two outs of the sixth. Matt Thornton then handled a perfect seventh inning. But things fell apart for Casey Janssen. The Nats eighth inning reliever allowed nine Reds to bat and four of themto score.
It started with a double by Todd Frazier that at first looked like it would tie the game. Instead, Denard Span made a spectacular play to keep the ball in the field. Jay Bruce walked and Pena singled to load the bases. Then, after a lineout by Marlon Byrd, Zack Cozart doubled to drive in two and Billy Hamilton singled to score two more. By the time Janssen collected his third out, the Reds had taken an 8-5 lead.
The Nationals didn’t go quietly in the top of the ninth – Denard Span and Ian Desmond both managed walks – but for the second straight game they could not muster any runs against Aroldis Chapman. The loss gives Washington its first series loss since being swept by the Marlins on April 24-26 and puts their season record at 28-21.
Tomorrow, the Nats will try to avoid being swept and salvage a game as they send out Tanner Roark to make his second start of the season against Michael Lorenzen (1-1, 3.12 ERA), a rookie making his fifth start of the year. You can catch the game on MASN2 at 1:10 PM ET.
- It will likely go unnoticed in the loss, but Denard Span made an absolute brilliant play in the field. With one out in the eighth, Todd Frazier crushed a ball that looked like it would leave the yard and tie the game. Instead, Span made a leaping play to swat the ball back into play, holding Frazier to a double and keeping the Nationals lead intact, at least for the moment.
- Bryce Harper wasn’t in the lineup Saturday due to back soreness, but the Nationals still managed to have a player ejected. Yunel Escobar turned and argued when he didn’t agree with a third-pitch strike in the seventh inning. While the umpire did warn Escobar to sit down before tossing him, it’s worth pointing out that he wasn’t given very long to speak his mind before he was told to hit the showers. Escobar certainly has to be more careful given the fact that the Nationals are already shorthanded, but he wasn’t given much of a leash from the ump, either. On the bright side, Matt Williams was not thrown out this time.
- Gio Gonzalez has been inconsistent for the Nationals this season, and that streak continued. In his ten starts, Gonzalez has managed to go more than 6.1 innings only twice. With the injury to Strasburg, the Nats will need him to pitch deeper into games.