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Middle-inning decisions again cost Nationals


Middle-inning decisions again cost Nationals

Does this sound familiar: The Nationals scratch and claw their way to take a 5-3 lead against a first-place club into the sixth or seventh inning, only to watch that lead fritter away and ultimately lose by a score of 8-5?

It should sound familiar, because it just happened Monday against the Mets.

And last Tuesday against the Cardinals.

And last Monday against the Cardinals.

Yes, the Nationals' last three losses have all come in exactly the same fashion, with a 5-3 lead blown in the sixth inning or later, resulting in a final score of 8-5. In between all that, they've managed to win seven other games. So, really, had they just been able to hold those three late leads, they'd be riding a 10-game winning streak right and sit a mere 2 games behind the Mets in the NL East instead of the current 5.

They didn't do that, of course, and so they find themselves in their current predicament. So, how did Monday's middle-innings meltdown come about?

It began, really, in the bottom of the fifth, when manager Matt Williams faced his first real decision of the day: Pinch-hit for Max Scherzer with two on, two out and the Nats leading 5-4, or let the pitcher bat for himself?

Williams elected to leave Scherzer in, sacrificing a shot at expanding the lead in exchange for at least one more inning from his starter, who was at 89 pitches at the time.

"He's our best option in the sixth inning," the manager said afterward. "He's got pitches left. We want to make sure we're getting to the eighth. He's at [89 pitches] and he's got the lead. He's our No. 1 for a reason."

Scherzer did actually hit the ball hard, but right at second baseman Wilmer Flores, and so the fifth inning was over and the right-hander prepared to re-take the mound, trying to protect a 5-4 lead. Right away, Yoenis Cespedes doubled. And right away, the Nationals' bullpen sprung into action ... though that group wasn't called upon to pitch until the seventh, after Scherzer had allowed the tying run via a balk and a sacrifice fly that scored Cespedes from third.

When the relief corps was finally summoned, it was all hands on deck. Williams began the seventh with Blake Treinen, who has been highly effective against right-handed hitters this season (.183 batting average against, .494 OPS against) but not so much against left-handed hitters (.351 batting average against, .914 OPS against).

Treinen gave up a leadoff single to Flores (a right-handed batter) and then barely threw him out at second base on Ruben Tejada's attempted sacrifice bunt. And that was it for him. Enter Felipe Rivero to face the left-handed Curtis Granderson.

This, according to Williams, proved to be the crucial plate appearance of the inning. Rivero has been a revelation lately — he entered Monday having retired 13 consecutive batters over his last three outings — but he wound up walking Granderson to put runners on first and second with one out.

With David Wright stepping to the plate and the left-handed Daniel Murphy behind him, Williams could have stuck with Rivero, who has enjoyed success lately against both lefties and righties. But the Granderson walk changed everything, and so Williams found himself walking back to the mound again for another pitching change, this time bringing in right-hander Casey Janssen.

"If [Rivero] gets Granderson, we let him go through and get to [Murphy]," Williams said. "But since he walked him, a base hit there, they end up taking the lead.

Which is exactly what Wright did, though not against the left-handed Rivero but against the right-handed Janssen, who surrendered an RBI single that gave the Mets the lead for good.

For Janssen, who gave up seven total runs during last week's losses to the Cardinals, was pitching on the third straight day, something he hadn't previously done with the Nationals. He made no excuse for that, though.

"No, if you can't get up for situations like this," Janssen said, his voice trailing off. "It's always fun to pitch in situations like this. Adrenaline takes care of everything."

Janssen didn't have much time to get the adrenaline flowing, because he was pulled after facing only one batter, giving way to veteran left-hander Matt Thornton to try and get out of the inning without any more damage. Thornton, though, gave up a sacrifice fly to left that scored Granderson and then an RBI double to Cespedes, one of the least-favorable matchups for the day.

"Looking to get a groundball from Murphy," Thornton said of his plan-of-attack against the first batter he faced. "That's why I threw him inside so many times, hoping to get a double play there with Cespedes hitting on-deck. At the same time, trying to make sure I get an out. I didn't want him to do what he did do. But he had a hell of an at-bat. Fouled off some really really good pitches and got his job done."

Thus, a 5-5 game turned into an 8-5 deficit, one the Nationals would never make up. Which has become the norm around here.

Fifteen times this season they have taken a lead into the sixth inning and wound up losing. Last season, it only happened eight times.

And lately, it feels like the same thing is happening over and over.

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Kendrick carted off with injury in Nats 4-1 loss to Dodgers

Kendrick carted off with injury in Nats 4-1 loss to Dodgers

WASHINGTON -- Ross Stripling struck out a career-high nine in six innings, Max Muncy drove in two runs and the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Washington Nationals 4-1 in the opener of a day-night doubleheader on Saturday.

The Nationals suffered a potentially significant injury when Howie Kendrick went to the ground after catching Muncy's sacrifice fly to deep left in the eighth. Kendrick, who's hitting a team-leading .303, put no weight on his right leg and was taken off the field on a cart:

Stripling (1-1) struck out the side in the first inning and then fanned the final five batters he faced, getting Bryce Harper during each of those stretches, in the longest and best of his four starts this season. He allowed one run on four hits, walking none.

Stripling made 11 relief appearances, allowing one run in 15 1/3 innings, before moving into the Dodgers' rotation.

Joc Pederson and Logan Forsythe had two hits apiece for Los Angeles, which won its second straight after losing nine of its previous 10.

The Nationals lost for the first time since May 9. Washington had not played a full game since Sunday night in Arizona because of rain that has lingered over the Mid-Atlantic. One game against the Yankees was suspended in the sixth inning and another was postponed, and Friday's game against Los Angeles also was washed out.

Pederson led off the game with a triple off Tanner Roark (2-4) and scored on a sacrifice fly by Yasmani Grandal. Forsythe doubled in the second, breaking an 0-for-12 skid that stretched to April 14 and included a 26-game stint on the disabled list with right shoulder inflammation. He singled in the fifth and scored on a grounder by Cody Bellinger.

Harper wore eyeglasses with clear plastic frames during his first at-bat, when he struck out swinging. He ditched the specs his second time up and drove in the Nationals' only run with a single to center.

Roark allowed three runs on six hits in seven innings. He walked one and struck out eight.

J.T. Chargois worked the seventh, Josh Fields pitched the eighth and Kenley Jansen threw a perfect ninth for his seventh save in nine opportunities.

Muncy, who struck out looking his first two at-bats, drove in the Dodgers' third run with a double in the sixth. His deep flyball to left in the eighth scored Justin Turner.


- Rankings Update: Where does your team fall?
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- Very Persuasive: How Rizzo convinced Reynolds to come to D.C.

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Well-rested Nationals welcome the slumping Dodgers for a weekend series


Well-rested Nationals welcome the slumping Dodgers for a weekend series

WASHINGTON -- The Los Angeles Dodgers travel to Washington on Friday to take on a Nationals team that was rolling before rain idled them for most of the week.

On Thursday, the Dodgers snapped a six-game losing streak with one of their best games of the season.

Justin Turner, who returned from the disabled list this week, tied a career high with five RBIs and Kenta Maeda threw eight scoreless innings in a 7-0 win over the Miami Marlins. Turner provided a three-run double in the third inning and a two-run double in the fourth.

"As a collective group, we've done a good job of getting people on base -- we just haven't had that timely hit," Matt Kemp told the Los Angeles Times. "We got one of our best hitters back, and he had a big day for us today. I think it relaxed everybody, and you saw some good things today."

Building on that momentum won't be easy on Friday as the Dodgers (17-26) face a well-rested Nationals team that has won 13 of its last 15 games and starter Max Scherzer (7-1, 1.69).

Washington (24-18) has played 5 1/2 innings of baseball since Monday due to rain in the Washington area.

Scherzer had been slated to pitch against the Yankees Wednesday on normal rest. The two-time reigning NL Cy Young Award winner, Scherzer is making a strong case for No. 3.

He has won six straight decisions and hasn't allowed more than two earned runs in any start. Scherzer leads the majors with 14 strikeouts per nine innings and has held opponents to a .116 batting average in four home starts this season.

"I think what separates Max is his competitiveness, the fire and energy that he pitches with, almost imposing his will at times on hitters. He's just in attack mode all the time," closer Sean Doolittle told the Washington Post.

Ross Stripling (0-1, 2.20 ERA), filling the injured Clayton Kershaw's spot in the rotation, pitches for Los Angeles. He is 0-1 lifetime in two games against Washington with a 21.60 ERA.

In his last start, he left with the lead after allowing two runs on six hits, with a career-high seven strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings of a loss to the Reds. Stripling batted in the fifth and was lifted in the sixth, only to watch the bullpen lose the lead in that inning.

"This was the first time Ross pitched into the sixth inning," manager Dave Roberts told "Up to 79 pitches, more than he's ever thrown, got a guy (JT Chargois) you're comfortable getting (Eugenio) Suarez out and it just didn't work out. We just didn't get it done."

Washington's light week was a gift for the back of the Nationals bullpen, including Sammy Solis, Ryan Madson, Brandon Kintzler and closer Doolittle, all of whom are on pace for career highs in appearances.

"Take 'em all," Kintzler told the Washington Post regarding the days off. "We need 'em."

Somebody who will be getting more days off than they want is catcher Matt Wieters, who had surgery Wednesday to repair his left hamstring, a procedure that could keep him out at least until the latter part of the season.

Backup Pedro Severino is hitting .274 with a .386 on-base percentage.