LOS ANGELES -- Bryce Harper strode to the plate late this afternoon, the shadows starting to creep onto the emerald green field at Dodger Stadium, and surveyed the situation.
Top of the ninth. Two outs. Man on first. His team trailing 2-0. A hard-throwing right-hander on the mound.
A home run, you know, would've tied the game.
"I was thinking the same thing," Harper said. "I wanted to hit a bomb, for sure."
What does this say about the state of the Nationals' lineup? Their best hope is for a 19-year-old with less than 24 hours of big-league experience to drive one out of the park with two outs in the ninth.
Harper didn't connect off Dodgers reliever Kenley Jansen. He took a couple of mighty hacks, fouled off some tough fastballs, worked the count full and then drew a walk to prolong the Nationals' last-ditch rally.
"I just tried to get something I could drive," he said. "And if I didn't, I was going to draw a walk."
It was a fine at-bat by Harper, certainly given the situation and his lack of experience. Truth be told, though, it left the onus on a teammate (backup catcher Jesus Flores) to come through with the game on the line.
And right now, there aren't many others in the Nationals' lineup swinging the bat well enough to produce in those do-or-die situations.
When Flores swung and missed at Jansen's final offering of the day, a demoralizing 2-0 loss became official and another tepid offensive performance was in the books. Shut out for the first time this season, the Nationals ended this West Coast in frustrating fashion. Over their last four games, all losses, their pitching staff allowed only 11 total runs. Their lineup scored only six.
"We feel terrible," first baseman Adam LaRoche said. "They're going out and doing everything they can possibly do. They've thrown some great games, all of them. We're just not pushing runs across."
There is, of course, a built-in excuse. The Nationals' two best offensive players (Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse) are on the disabled list. And today they were also without Jayson Werth, who was sidelined with a severe migraine headache.
Thus manager Davey Johnson was left to fill out a lineup card that featured Danny Espinosa and his two RBI in the No. 3 spot, Xavier Nady and his .140 average in the 5-hole and brand-new rookies Tyler Moore and Harper in the sixth and seventh positions.
Though they're careful not to use the Zimmerman and Morse injuries as an excuse for their lack of offense ... "that's a big part of it," LaRoche admitted.
"And I think everybody knows that," he continued. "When you've got the middle of your lineup missing, the other team sees it. They know it. It gives them a little more confidence. We all know it. It's going to be a grind. It's going to be tough with some of our big sticks out of there. It'd be nice to get Zim for sure and eventually get Mikey back."
The offensive struggles this week overshadowed several more stellar performances from the Nationals' pitching staff. Gio Gonzalez was the latest victim, suffering a hard-luck loss despite allowing only two runs on three hits, though the left-hander was not as sharp as he had been in previous outings.
Having compiled a team-record, 25-inning scoreless streak on the merits of his pinpoint command, Gonzalez labored to find the strike zone today. He issued five walks, including three in a row during the bottom of the sixth. That set the stage for James Loney to loft a two-run single to center, the hit that produced the afternoon's only runs.
"I kind of beat myself there," Gonzalez said. "I was trying to be too perfect, put my pitches where they were too perfect and it kind of got away from me."
The Nationals actually outhit the Dodgers, 4-3, but two of those hits came from the two recent call-ups: Moore and Harper. Moore, summoned from Class AAA Syracuse earlier in the day when veteran utilityman Mark DeRosa was placed on the 15-day disabled list with an oblique strain, delivered his first career hit with a single to right in the fifth.
"It was good to knock it out of the way and worry about something else now," the 25-year-old slugger said.
Harper, meanwhile, came through with his first hit off a left-hander, singling to right in the seventh to make himself 2-for-6 as a big leaguer.
Throw in a spectacular catch against the center-field fence, and Harper had himself an impressive debut weekend. Not that the 19-year-old phenom was content with the outcome.
"We didn't win two games," he said. "I'm never satisfied about that. Hopefully we can go back to D.C., win a couple games, get on a streak again and get something going."