The Washington Nationals lost to the Colorado Rockies, 7-5, Monday night to drop to 10-11. Here are five observations from the game...
1. This road trip appeared to be a building opportunity before it started. No more National League East slugfest. No teams playing above their roster -- looking at you, Pittsburgh. No more windows of expected stops and starts. Forward march.
Not so. The road has burned Washington, losers of three of four against scalawags of the National League, Miami and Colorado.
Monday night, the bullpen let it go -- again. A would-be rally in the ninth was eliminated by the exquisite Colorado third baseman Nolan Arenado, who turned an unassisted double play with two runners on. If anyone turns to ask why Anthony Rendon has not been an All-Star, running parallel with Arenado is the answer. He hit the go-ahead home run. He ended the game in the field. Talent pours out of his ears each morning.
The loss moves Washington back under .500. Again. Forward, back, forward, back. The National League East would be challenged to be more zany. Philadelphia is 12-10 after a Monday night loss to New York in which Bryce Harper was ejected. The Mets are 12-10 after the win. Idle Atlanta is 11-10. The four contenders continue to sit on each other’s chests.
Trouble for the Nationals is this current run was supposed to lead to daylight, not the headlamp of an oncoming train. They dropped the series in Miami. Patrick Corbin and Anibal Sanchez are on the hook to make sure that does not happen in Colorado.
2. The Nationals bullpen entered the game when it was tied. Guess what happened then?
Matt Grace pitched a scoreless inning. He walked one. No big deal. A simple outing for Grace.
Wander Suero followed in the seventh. Arenado’s 1,000th career hit landed beyond the center field wall. No more tie game. Colorado led, 6-5.
Suero’s advanced numbers suggest he is a better pitcher than his ERA, which is now 5.79. Numbers like xFIP- (expected fielding independent pitching adjusted for the park), xFIP and hard-hit percentage portray Suero as a solid reliever. His results counter that.
Which puts Davey Martinez in a bad spot. It’s easy to quibble with his bullpen decisions at times. He also has who he has. Once in the game, someone needs to get outs. He put Suero in against the most lethal part of the Rockies’ lineup. Suero threw a cutter down and in to one of the best hitters in the league. Home run. Lead lost.
Kyle Barraclough allowed a home run, too. A solo shot by pinch-hitter Raimel Tapia. Just 376 feet, but out.
Hard to manage when so few can get outs.
3. Better for Brian Dozier. Three home runs in the last four games.
Monday brought a three-run homer and Colorado closer Wade Davis pitching around Dozier with a runner on in the ninth.
The Nationals are going to give Dozier every chance to get going for multiple reasons. First, he can hit 30 homers as the second baseman. Second, he’s easily their best defensive choice at the position. Third, he is making $9 million this season. That’s not about to be plopped on the bench in April. Last, as enticing as Carter Kieboom’s bat is, the reason he’s not in the major leagues is his defense. Only time can enhance that.
Keep an eye on Dozier’s fly ball percentage. He’s from the same school as hitting coach Kevin Long: pull and lift. His fly ball percentage coming into the night was down about six percent from his career average. If that goes up, so will his home run total.
4. Jeremy Hellickson and Coors Field is a dangerous mix. Hellickson needs to be fine -- up and down, in and out, never much on the plate -- to have success. The Denver air does no pitcher favors. It’s just that much more dangerous for a pitcher with less margin for error.
And Monday was rough: nine hits, five earned runs in five innings. A key hit came from former Nationals bench player Mark Reynolds. His two-run, fifth-inning homer tied the game. It was homer 297 for Reynolds, who tied Rickey Henderson on the all-time list via the drive to center field.
The outing also dinged an impressive string for Hellickson. He allowed three runs or fewer in 20 of his 21 starts since joining the Nationals. Monday went on the other side of that total.
5. Jake Noll is back.
One of the fun stories of spring, Noll was again summoned to the major leagues Monday in order to beef up the Nationals’ short bench. Rendon remains out of the lineup. He also remains off the 10-day injured list. Which means the roster has a dead spot.
Noll can play multiple infield positions. He’s also a right-handed bat off the bench.
Reliever Austin Adams was sent back to Triple-A Fresno to make room for Noll. The move leaves Washington with seven relievers and four available bench players.
Sunday, the Nationals were able to play with a short bench because Stephen Strasburg pitched eight innings. Going into offensively fueled Coors Field short on bench players is a bad idea. So, Noll, the unlikely 25th man on the Opening Day roster who drew a walk for a walkoff win in Game 5, has returned. But, probably not for long.
MORE NATIONALS NEWS:
- Streaking Dozier: Brian blasts third HR in four games
- Sundays are for Strasburg: starter tallies double-digit Ks in 8 innings
- Craig Kimbrel: Free agent closer could help any NL East contender