Offensive struggles continue as Washington Nationals fall to Cubs, 2-1


The Washington Nationals lost the first game of their four-game series against the Chicago Cubs at Nationals Park Thursday night. The Nationals were assisted in this loss by wet and cold weather, questionable calls by the umpires, losing three runners on the basepaths due to pickoffs and stranding eight runners in scoring position.

A damp, rainy night at Nationals Park which delayed the start of the game by two hours couldn’t dampen the fans’ enthusiasm for the return of Anthony Rendon to the team. Rendon finally joined the Nationals for his first game of the season after recovering from knee and oblique injuries.

Rendon started the game playing second base with Yunel Escobar playing third. However, Escobar came out of the game with an unspecified injury during his at bat in the bottom of the first with a 3-2 count on a check swing. Rendon moved over to play third and Danny Espinosa came into the game to play second base. After the game, the injury to Escobar was reported to be a problem with his right wrist.

The Chicago Cubs were in town for the start of a four-game series with the Nats. Gio Gonzalez was the starting pitcher for the Nationals. The Cubs sent former Orioles pitcher Jake Arrieta to the mound to face the Nats.

The Cubs jumped out to an early lead in the top of the first. Dexter Fowler started the game with a single. Gio walked Kris Bryant and then Anthony Rizzo singled to load the bases. Gonzalez walked in the Cubs’ first run allowing Junior Lake the free pass and RBI. With the bases still loaded Starlin Castro ground into a double play, but Bryant scored from third. The Cubs were up 2-0 and the Nationals were in comeback mode right from the start of the game.

Rendon singled in his first at bat, but got thrown out trying to steal second. He made some very nice plays at third and looked like he was never away. No rust detected in the field or at the plate, where Rendon went 2-4.

Gonzalez settled down after his rough first inning and started to deal effectively with the Cubs lineup. However, he threw a lot of pitches in the first inning and it was clear that he was going to have trouble going deep into this game. He was at 103 pitches after six innings and done for the night.

Arrieta really had his curveball working and was throwing it for strikes. The Nationals weren’t getting on base often against Arrieta, and no one was able to drive in runs. Jose Lobaton doubled in the bottom of the fifth which was the first extra base hit the Nats had managed against Arrieta.

Another game, another replay challenge lost by the Nationals. Espinosa stole second base during the fourth inning with two outs, except he was called out by umpire Joe West. Matt Williams challenged the call, and several camera angles showed that Espinosa’s foot was on the bag before the tag was made. Of course, the replay crew upheld West’s blown call and the on the field call stood.

It started raining steadily in the top of the sixth inning with the score still 2-0 in favor of the Cubs. The Nationals finally broke through against Arrieta in the bottom of the sixth. With one out Span singled, Rendon doubled and Espinosa was hit by a pitch. The bases were loaded for Bryce Harper. He hit a ball up the middle and Span scored from third. The Nats were on the board.

Harper was called out at first by umpire Rob Drake, but he was clearly safe. Rizzo did not even have the ball in his glove before Harper’s foot hit the bag. Since Williams was out of challenges because of the earlier blown challenge by the NY crew, nothing could be done about it. Now the Nats had two outs and Ryan Zimmerman at the plate. Zimmerman was also hit by a pitch. Ian Desmond hit a bullet ticketed for right field, but the line drive was snared by Rizzo for the third out.

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Blake Treinen pitched a scoreless seventh inning out of the bullpen for the Nats.

Justin Grimm came on in relief of Arrieta for the Cubs in the bottom of the seventh. He walked Lobaton to start the inning. Michael Taylor was trying to bunt, and popped up a bunt with two strikes that could not be handled by Rizzo. He let the ball drop and Taylor was safe at first. The Nats had two on and no one out. Pinch hitter Dan Uggla came to the plate also showing bunt. He changed that up during the at bat and popped up the first pitch he swung at for the first out.

Joe Maddon changed pitchers, going to left-hander James Russell to pitch to Span. He popped out and Maddon went to the bullpen again, bringing in Jason Motte to face Rendon. He couldn’t catch up with Motte’s 95 mph fastballs and struck out. The Nats wasted a good opportunity to tie the game.

Matt Thornton started pitching for the Nationals in the top of the eighth. Fowler led off with a single, but was erased at second on a fielder’s choice by Bryant. Rizzo hit a broken bat single that sent Fowler to third. With runners on the corners and one out, Williams elected to go to Aaron Barrett to finish the inning. Barrett induced a double play ball from pinch hitter Chris Coghlan to get the Nats out of the inning.

Pedro Strop pitched a scoreless eighth for the Cubs, giving up no hits and walking Harper. Aaron Barrett threw a scoreless ninth for the Nats.

The stage was set for a potential win or tie for the Nats in the bottom of the ninth as Cubs closer Hector Rondon was having command issues. Lobaton lined out to left. Taylor singled and pinch hitter Clint Robinson drew a walk to put two on. The winning run was aboard.

Span lined out to left center field, in the wrong place to allow Taylor to tag up and go to third. Rendon stepped to the plate and worked the count to 3-1 as Rondon was still struggling with his control. But on that third ball, Cubs catcher David Ross made a snap throw to first and caught Robinson wandering too far from the bag. Robinson was out and the game was over. Rendon’s chance to be a hero in his first game back with the Nationals was wasted by a base running mistake.

Next Game: The Nationals continue their series with the Chicago Cubs on Friday June 5th with game time at 7:05 pm EST. The game will be broadcast on MASN. The Nationals send Tanner Roark (1-2, 2.59 ERA) to the mound. The Cubs starter will be Tsuyoshi Wada (0-0, 2.30 ERA).

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