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Nats cope with a rare loss

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Nats cope with a rare loss

PHOENIX -- Kurt Suzuki arrived in Washington on Aug. 4 and professed his excitement to join a Nationals club that was in first place and gearing up for the stretch run. Little did he know what he was in for.

The Nationals won Suzuki's debut, 10-7 over the Marlins. Then they won the next day to wrap up a homestand. Then they swept the Astros in Houston. Then they won two straight in Arizona, improving to 8-0 since the veteran catcher joined the roster.

What, then, was Suzuki to make of Sunday's series finale against the Diamondbacks, a 7-4 loss that conjured up emotions not felt around here in quite some time?

"Anytime you lose, it stinks no matter what," he said. "But I mean, that's the first time I lost here. So it was a little different."

This game certainly felt much different than the eight that preceded it. The Nationals were sloppy out of the gate and put themselves in a 7-0 hole, though they did try to mount a furious rally late and brought the tying run to the plate with two outs in the ninth.

Ultimately, they couldn't overcome a shaky start from Ross Detwiler, who lasted only 4 23 innings and surrendered five runs (four earned). The left-hander wasn't feeling well, dealing with a sinus problem and stomach illness, but he refused to blame that for his poor outing.

"If I'm feeling bad and I still get my pitches down, then I get outs and it looks a whole lot better," he said. "I don't think that's the excuse why I did bad at all."

Detwiler indeed had trouble keeping the ball down in the strike zone, inducing only three groundball outs. The Diamondbacks lineup didn't exactly pound him into submission, but their three hits did all go for extra bases. Detwiler also walked one batter and hit two others, eventually pulled by manager Davey Johnson after snagging a scorched comebacker from Jason Kubel that nearly took his head off.

"Sometimes they always say some guys play their best when they're sick," Suzuki said. "It does take a toll on you and your body and makes you kind of feel foggy out there. It's tough going out there like that."

Detwiler wasn't helped a whole lot by his defense, particularly during an ugly stretch in the bottom of the second in which Ryan Zimmerman fired a wayward throw from third base for his ninth error of the season and then Suzuki threw wide on a stolen-base attempt to allow the afternoon's first run to score.

"Things like that are going to happen," Zimmerman said. "We've just got to make sure they don't happen a lot."

If they looked sloppy in the field early on, the Nationals looked downright asleep at the plate for much of the day. They managed just one baserunner in six innings against rookie Patrick Corbin, and that one (Bryce Harper) was immediately picked off first base.

Harper actually should have been standing on second base at the time if not for a bizarre (and violent) run-in with umpire Mike Muchlinski, who unfortunately stood in the rookie's way as he tried to advance to second on a wild throw. Harper bowled over Muchlinski with a tackle that might have resulted in a fine from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, and upon regaining his feet trotted back to first base.

As it turns out, had Harper simply continued running, he would have been awarded second base for umpire interference, even had the Diamondbacks thrown him out.

Muchlinski is a minor-league umpire who was called up for the final two games of this series after crew chief Dale Scott took a foul tip to his chin and suffered a concussion.

"He was way out of position," said Johnson, who argued briefly with Muchlinski. "He was embarrassed. "He said: 'I'm more embarrassed than anyone.'"

The Nationals finally got to Corbin in the seventh, but they still trailed 7-2 entering the ninth. That's when a lopsided loss suddenly turned interesting again.

Cesar Izturis and Michael Morse greeted reliever Takashi Saito with back-to-back doubles. Jayson Werth (who was not in the starting lineup) brought home one run with a groundout, then Tyler Moore singled home another.

All of a sudden, it was a 7-4 game and Arizona manager Kirk Gibson was forced to summon his closer, J.J. Putz, to finish this one off. And when Putz walked Steve Lombardozzi to load the bases, Roger Bernadina now stepped to the plate representing the tying run with two outs.

"I mean, there's no give up on this ballclub," Johnson said. "They're going to keep battling you. ... They weren't planning on using their closer. Get him in, tying run there, anything can happen at that point."

Putz, though, buckled down and struck out Bernadina to end the game and leave the Nationals trying to decipher this strange, new sensation.

A loss? They barely remembered what that felt like.

"As much as I wish, we weren't going to win every game the rest of the season," Zimmerman said. "We're going to lose, just like everyone else loses. We won the series. We'll go to San Francisco and try to win that series. ... Finish this road trip up strong, and it'll be a great road trip."

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Nationals CF Victor Robles closing in on a return to the lineup

Nationals CF Victor Robles closing in on a return to the lineup

He has not played since Game 2 of the National League Division Series when he pulled up because of a hamstring strain after crossing first base. The strain was described at the time as “mild.” Robles has been working toward a return since then.

“We're going to run him a little bit [Sunday],” Davey Martinez said Sunday on a conference call. “He's got to get some treatment, and then we'll see [Monday]. He'll participate in BP and do a little bit more running, and we'll see where we're at [Monday].

“I'm not going to anticipate anything until he comes in [Monday], but he's progressing, and hopefully he'll be ready [Monday].”

Michael A. Taylor replaced Robles in center field. He hit an important solo home run Saturday and is hitting .300 in the postseason. He also made a significant judgment error in the outfield which allowed the Cardinals’ lone Game 2 -- and series -- run to score.

Martinez made it sound like Taylor’s time as the starting center fielder is over when Robles is ready to return.

“Victor has been in center field all year, and he's played really well for us,” Martinez said. “When he's healthy, he'll get a chance to play. But like I said before, we want him to be at 100 percent. So until then, we'll see what happens here in the next day or so.”

Few other changes are expected Monday. Stephen Strasburg will start. Kurt Suzuki -- despite his lack of postseason hitting and trouble throwing out runners -- should be behind the plate.

Reliever Roenis Elías, who has not thrown a pitch in the major leagues since Sept. 5, may be in the mix Monday because Patrick Corbin’s bullpen appearances are now on hold prior to his Game 4 start.

“Moving forward, Elias is going to have to get those big outs against the lefties here in the next couple days,” Martinez said.

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Harper-Dusty reunion? Baker reportedly interviewing for Phillies manager job

Harper-Dusty reunion? Baker reportedly interviewing for Phillies manager job

After the Washington Nationals won back-to-back NL East division titles from 2017-2018 but failed to make it past the NLDS in each of those seasons, they cut bait with manager Dusty Baker by electing not to re-sign him when his contract expired.

Baker now has a chance to return to a managerial role, as the Chicago Tribune is reporting that he’s earned an interview with the Philadelphia Phillies after they fired Gabe Kapler last week.

The Phillies of course employ the services of Bryce Harper, who played under Baker in Washington and has spoken highly of him in the past.

After the Nats let him go, Baker stepped away from baseball for a year before joining the San Francisco Giants as a special adviser to the CEO last season. The two-time All-Star outfielder has managed the Giants, Cubs, Reds and Nationals over parts of 22 seasons, amassing a career record of 1,863-1,636 (.532).

Of the 15 skippers with more wins in their managerial careers, 13 are in the Hall of Fame and one (Bruce Bochy) is a shoo-in to get there. The other is Gene Mauch, who joins Baker as the only two managers with at least 1,600 wins to never claim a World Series title.

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