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Hard hits not enough for Nats

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Hard hits not enough for Nats

MIAMI -- If not for the giant scoreboard above the center field fence at Marlins Park, the Nationals might never have known they only scored three runs Monday night. As many balls as they hit hard as a team, as many strong individual offensive performances as they got, surely they must have put up a nice, crooked number on that scoreboard.

Nope. At the end of the night, the Nationals were on the wrong end of a 5-3 decision that left more than a few people inside their clubhouse baffled given the way they felt they swung the bat.

"Yeah, but I guess that's better," Ryan Zimmerman said. "We're putting ourselves in a position to score runs each game. A month ago, you couldn't really say that. As long as we keep giving ourselves opportunities like we hit the ball today, I think it's going to even out."

This was a game designed to support sabermetricians who stress the inability of pitchers or hitters from accounting for where the ball goes once it strikes bat. Nationals players couldn't have been much more pleased with the contact they made; and they couldn't have been less pleased with the end results.

They collected 11 hits in total, at least one in every inning save the fifth (which still featured a leadoff walk). Miami's pitchers seemed to be working out of the stretch the entire night, yet they consistently were bailed out by well-struck balls that happened to be hit directly at one of their fielders.

That included an incredible four double plays in the first six innings, two of which came on line drives smoked by Adam LaRoche and Bryce Harper, another on a scorched grounder up the middle by Jesus Flores that still turned into a 6-4-3 twin-killing.

"We hit the ball on the button," manager Davey Johnson said. "I don't know how many, three double plays we hit into? Four? But we did swing the bats good. We just didn't get the big hit."

Despite all that, the Nationals held a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the third, thanks to Flores' sacrifice fly that scored Danny Espinosa and Zimmerman's seventh homer in his last 18 games (a bomb that landed in the Clevelander night club beyond the left-field fence.

But starter Edwin Jackson gave both runs back, and then two more in rapid-fire succession. It began with a leadoff single to opposing pitcher Carlos Zambrano, continued with a single by Jose Reyes and then featured a two-run single by Carlos Lee on a slider at his shoelaces.

"It was down, but clearly not down enough," lamented Jackson, who was working on 11 days rest through the All-Star break. "He could still hit it good enough to get it in. I was trying to throw it down. I guess I should have bounced it."

The game now tied, Jackson fell into his most troublesome tendency: Letting an already shaky inning get worse.

This has happened to him several times this season. In fact, of the 46 total earned runs Jackson has allowed in 2012, 17 of them have come in only four of his 106 13 innings: a five-run first inning against the Astros on April 19, another five-run first on June 28 at the Rockies, a three-run run first on July 4 against the Giants and Monday night's four-run third in Miami.

Throw out those four ugly innings, and Jackson's season ERA is a sparkling 2.55 instead of its actual 3.89 figure.

"The game of baseball is damage control," he said. "Whether one inning is one run, two runs or three runs, it's just staying out of the big inning. It's a matter of making pitches when you have to."

Jackson couldn't make the pitch when he had to during Monday's third inning. After falling behind 1-0 to Hanley Ramirez, he grooved a fastball over the heart of the plate, and the Marlins third baseman tattooed the ball off the gaudy home run sculpture beyond the fence in left-center.

Little did Jackson or the Nationals realize at the time those four runs would be enough for the Marlins to win the game. Though they got one of them back in the sixth on Zimmerman's double and Michael Morse's RBI single, they watched as yet another rally was quashed by a heartbreaking double play.

With the bases loaded and two outs, Flores sent Zambrano's final pitch of the night on a beeline up the middle. If it squirted through, two runs would have scored and the Nationals would have taken the lead. Instead, Reyes made a lunging grab to his left and set in motion a 6-4-3 double play: the fourth the Nationals hit into over the course of six innings.

"I'm trying to look for a good pitch to hit and drive those runs in," Flores said. "Unfortunately, I hit it back to someone."

It was the story of the night for a Nationals club that was hoping to leave town with a series victory over a division rival but instead had to settle for a four-game split heading into a crucial homestand against the Mets and Braves.

"Yeah, but I like the way everybody's playing," Johnson said. "We're playing hard, we battled back. We gave ourselves every chance to win that ballgame. That's what good teams do."

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If the Nationals’ season isn’t over, it’s close

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If the Nationals’ season isn’t over, it’s close

NEW YORK -- Dealing with tomorrow has often become the only palatable way for the Nationals to forget yesterday.

They lose in eye-gouging fashion, roll in the next day to reset, and, at least in New York, find a topper. That formula has them on a train home from what could have been a series for re-emergence, but instead placed them in a worse place than they started. Washington is 19-31 following a sweep in Flushing. It would have to go 71-41 (a .634 winning percentage) to reach 90 wins. If it’s not already, the season is on the verge of being over. Manager Davey Martinez disputed that idea.

“I mean we're not out of it that's for sure, I can tell you that right now," Martinez said after Thursday’s 6-4 loss. “Like I said, everyday we're close, we compete, we're in every game. Now we just got to finish games.”

A slog-filled drive from midtown to Queens delivered the tired team back to its baseball quarters Thursday morning. Sean Doolittle changed then pulled his red hood up, sitting at his locker 10 hours after he stated he was “disgusted” with himself for Wednesday’s crash. Such a devastating night has been common for the 2019 Nationals. It was not for Doolittle. He hit a batter for the first time since May 29, 2018. He allowed four earned runs in an outing for the fifth time in 348 career appearances (1.4 percent of the time he pitches). In keeping with the season, the worst-possible outcome arrived at the worst-possible time, then another terrible one followed.

Martinez remained upbeat, sipping a morning drink concoction common in his native Puerto Rico. He rewatched Wednesday's game -- a masochist’s errand this season -- as he regularly does, went to sleep around 2 a.m., awoke at 7, arrived at Citi Field around 9:45. The leash on his future has been shortened greatly by the four failing days in New York.

The Nationals wandered out for stretch and light throwing in front of an oddball scene. Thursday was “Weather Day” at Citi Field with the Big Apple-famous Mr. G hosting in his Mets jersey. Mr. G  -- known to his friends as Irv Gikofsy, New York City’s most popular weatherman -- kicked up a “Let’s go Mets!” chant down the third base line while the Nationals relievers ran routes and caught a foam football to get loose in the same part of the park. The recently re-emerged Mrs. Met, who popped back up in 2013 after decades of dormancy, used her giant noggin to nod along.

The game was another compilation of missed opportunities, bullpen disasters and bad luck. Washington left eight runners on base through the first six innings alone. The Mets’ path to runs was aided by slop and basics. Carlos Gomez single in the fifth. He ran to steal second, Yan Gomes’ throw went into center field, Gomez went on to third base. A sacrifice fly scored him.

J.D. Davis singled in the sixth. Todd Frazier was hit by a pitch. Stephen Strasburg’s wild pitch moved them both over. Another sacrifice fly scored one, a Wilson Ramos infield single scored the other. The Mets led, 3-1.

The Nationals didn’t score with runners on first and third and one out in the first. They did not score after Juan Soto’s leadoff triple in the second inning. They did not score after a one-out double in the third. They did not score with runners on second and third and one out in the fourth. They did not score with a runner on second and one out in the fifth. This is not hyperbole for effect. It’s facts. Sigh-worthy ones.

The only effective offseason signings are Kurt Suzuki and Patrick Corbin. The others have not just resided below expectations, they have been among the worst in the league at their position.

Gomes, acquired in a trade, leads the league in passed balls. He’s committed three errors in his 29 starts. Coming into Thursday, he had a 65 OPS-plus (100 is average).

Brian Dozier started the afternoon with a 73 OPS-plus and -0.5 WAR. Those two numbers would be worse if not for a recent uptick both in the field and plate from him.

And, the most egregious failure of the offseason has been Trevor Rosenthal’s saga. Martinez was asked directly Wednesday if Rosenthal simply has the “yips”. He said they still believe Rosenthal’s problems are mechanics, not thoughts, despite him throwing baseballs to the backstop in central Pennsylvania. The luxury-tax averse Nationals are paying him $6 million to do so.

Finally, Thursday was enough for Martinez to shed his tranquility. After Howie Kendrick was ejected in the top of the eighth, Martinez ran to home plate to start an argument of his own. He half-circled home plate umpire Bruce Dreckman, yelled, pointed and carried on in a manner that begged Dreckman to throw him out. He did. Martinez went from rankled to furious. He spiked his hat, kicked the dirt, and yelled some more. The event provided his third career ejection and looked to be among the final moves of a manager on the verge of returning to private life.

A strange thing followed: his team rallied for three runs to take a 4-3 lead. No matter. There’s no goodness Washington’s bullpen can’t undermine. Wander Suero gave up a three-run homer in the eighth to Gomez. New day, different reliever, same ear-bleeding outcome.

Which again made talking about tomorrow the only way to deal with the grotesqueness of today. Trouble is tomorrow may not matter anymore.

“Things are going to change,” Martinez said. “Things are going to change. And I know that. So we just got to keep pounding away, keep playing baseball. There's good players in that clubhouse, really good players. We'll turn things around.”

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An irate Davey Martinez ejected in 8th inning as Nats swept by Mets

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An irate Davey Martinez ejected in 8th inning as Nats swept by Mets

Perhaps Davey Martinez senses his job security is in serious jeopardy as the team continues to underperform and slip its way down the competitive NL East division. 

The second-year Nationals manager, who's gone 101-111 since accepting the job, reached a boiling point Thursday when he was ejected in the 8th for arguing a called strike three on a Howie Kendrick check swing. 

“I just didn’t think he [Kendrick] swung. And we just got into it. All I did was tell him to ask for help. That’s why the first base umpire’s there. And he didn’t like it. I did what I had to do.”

"Things are going to change. Things are going to change. And I know that. So we just got to keep pounding away, keep playing baseball. there's good players in that clubhouse, really good players. We'll turn things around," Martinez reiterated postgame, as he so often has this season. 

Martinez, typically mild-mannered in the dugout, tied Matt Williams on the all-time career ejections as a manager list with his third Thursday. 

First-year National and MLB veteran second baseman Brian Dozier stood behind his manager after the crushing loss. 

“Davey does a really, really good job of always defending his players. Whether that be on the field to an umpire, to you guys, in the media, in the clubhouse, wherever it is, he does a really good job of that.”

The Nationals' 6-4 loss to New York marked the team's fifth straight as it falls to 19-31 on the season. They return home Friday night for a four-game set at Nationals Park against the Miami Marlins. 

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