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Nats' offensive issues being exposed

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Nats' offensive issues being exposed

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."

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Nationals bats get hot, but not enough vs. Blue Jays

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USA TODAY Sports

Nationals bats get hot, but not enough vs. Blue Jays

TORONTO — Washington Nationals reliever Ryan Madson had spent the past couple of weeks thinking about how long he'd gone between giving up home runs.

He won't have to wonder about it any more after the Toronto Blue Jays burned him with back-to-back blasts.

Teoscar Hernandez and Yangervis Solarte broke a tie with consecutive home runs in the eighth inning, Randal Grichuk added a pair of solo shots and the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Washington Nationals 8-6 on Sunday to complete a three-game sweep.

Hernandez and Solarte connected off Madson (1-3) as the Blue Jays won their seventh consecutive home game. Hernandez hit his 12th home run while Solarte's was his team-leading 15th.

"Everybody knows Madson is one of the best relievers in the league," Hernandez said. "We made some adjustments, took good swings, and hit it hard."

Madson last gave up a home run on June 4, 2017, while pitching for Oakland against Washington, when Ryan Zimmerman hit a three-run shot.

"I've been thinking about it a little bit because it seemed like it had been a while," Madson said of his year-plus streak. "It's kind of been on my mind for the last couple of weeks."

Madson, who allowed two home runs in all of 2017, blamed poor fastball command for his rough outing.

"I envisioned the inning going a lot different than that, obviously," he said. "The stuff was good but no command of it."

Hernandez went 3 for 4 and was hit by a pitch, reaching bases four times.

Grichuk went 3 for 3 with a bases-loaded walk. He homered off Tanner Roark in the second and went deep again off Shawn Kelley in the fifth. The homers were the sixth and seven of the season for Grichuk, five of which have come in June.

Kevin Pillar and Kendrys Morales each had two hits and an RBI for the Blue Jays, who are 6-2 in interleague play this season.

"Every game we win means a lot," Hernandez said. "We're just trying to get closer to the fight for first and second (wild card) spots."

Washington has lost five of six.

"You never want to get swept but I'm glad we swung the bats today," manager Dave Martinez said. "We haven't been swinging very well. I'll take our chances very time we score six runs."

Grichuk snapped a 5-5 tie with an RBI single off Justin Miller in the seventh but the Nationals answered in the eighth with Brian Goodwin's RBI single off Toronto's Tyler Clippard.

Ryan Tepera (4-2) pitched the final 1 1-3 innings for the win.

Slumping Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper started as the designated hitter and went 0 for 5 with two strikeouts, dropping his average to .217.

Harper, who has seven hits in his past 51 at bats, flied out to leave the bases loaded against Tepera in the eighth.

Neither starter lasted more than four innings. Blue Jays right-hander Sam Gaviglio allowed three runs and six hits while Roark allowed four runs and eight hits.

"I stunk today," Roark said.

THIEVERY

Toronto allowed a season-worst five stolen bases, four of them by Michael A. Taylor. The five steals matched Washington's season-high.

CATCH WITH DAD

On Father's Day, the sons and daughters of several Blue Jays tossed ceremonial first pitches to their dads, a group that included Solarte, Pillar, Morales, Aledmys Diaz and pitchers J.A Happ and John Axford.

FATHERHOOD

Gaviglio left before the game was over to fly home to Washington state after learning his wife had gone into labor with the couple's first child.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Nationals: 1B Matt Adams (left hand) was out of the lineup for a second straight day. Adams was hit by a pitch while attempting to bunt Friday. Daniel Muprhy made his second straight start at first.

Blue Jays: OF Steve Pearce (strained left oblique) went 2 for 2 with a walk in his second rehab game at Triple-A Buffalo. Pearce went 1 for 3 with a single and a walk Saturday.

UP NEXT

Nationals: Washington returns home Monday to face the New York Yankees. The teams will resume a May 15 game that was suspended with the score tied 3-3 in the middle of the sixth inning. Following the completion of that game, the Nationals and Yankees will make up a May 16 game that was postponed by rain. RHP Erick Fedde (0-1, 5.91) will start the nine-inning game. The Yankees have not named a starter.

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Nationals picking up where they left off in May vs. Yankees with 6th-inning start, makeup game

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Nationals picking up where they left off in May vs. Yankees with 6th-inning start, makeup game

WASHINGTON — On what was supposed to be a day off, the New York Yankees and the Washington Nationals will try on Monday to finish what they started in May.

The Yankees travel to Nationals Park to complete a game halted by rain on May 15 with the score tied 3-3 (5:05 p.m ET). The teams will then make up a game that was rained out on May 16 (7:05 p.m. ET).

Slumping Bryce Harper gets the game restarted when he leads off the bottom of the sixth inning.

New York's Sonny Gray (4-4, 4.98 ERA) opposes Erick Fedde (0-1, 5.91) 30 minutes after the completion of the suspended game.

Both teams are coming off a loss, though for the Yankees it's a blip and for the Nationals a trend.

Washington (37-31) completed a five-game trip through American League parks with an 8-6 loss at Toronto. The Nationals went 1-4 on the trip, ending with a sweep at the hands of the Blue Jays.

After failing to score in three of their previous five games, the Nationals produced 13 hits Sunday, only to see rare poor performances from a starter and a late-inning reliever.

Tanner Roark lasted just four innings and reliever Ryan Madson allowed two homers in the eighth inning, the first he has given up since June 4, 2017, when he was a member of the Oakland A's and Washington's Ryan Zimmerman homered.

"You never want to get swept, but I'm glad we swung the bats today," Nationals manager Dave Martinez told MASN.com. "We haven't been swinging very well. ... I'll take our chances every time we score six runs, I really will. I'm proud of them, they didn't give up, they fought the whole game."

Roark's short outing came at a particularly bad time. The Nationals used four relievers Sunday and the pitching staff is looking at 12 or more innings of work Monday.

"I stunk today," Roark told MASN.com. "Didn't really have much working for me."

Anthony Rendon, Brian Goodwin and Wilmer Difo each collected two hits, but Harper went 0-for-5. He is now batting .163 (7-for-43) in June with four walks and 20 strikeouts.

The Yankees (46-21) dropped a 3-1 decision to the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday but have won 13 of their last 17. That includes splitting two games with the Nationals last week.

CC Sabathia was the hard-luck loser Sunday when the Yankees went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position.

"Always," Yankees manager Aaron Boone told reporters when asked if he expected three runs not to be enough against his team.

"And that's no disrespect ever to the opponent, it's just I always know that we're some traffic away from popping one," he added. "We had a little traffic and threw some hits out there, but we just couldn't get over the hump. They held us down and kept us at bay today."

The Yankees (.687) remained ahead of the 49-24 Red Sox (.671) in the AL East. New York leads the majors in runs per game, homers, homers per game, slugging percentage and OPS.

That's despite the continue struggles of Giancarlo Stanton (.243), who went 1-for-3 Sunday with a walk and two strikeouts.

"He's still working to be 'on time' and get started to his rhythm of hitting. ... That's what he's struggled with: consistently being on time. That's when you have a tendency to expand or be behind on the fastball or behind on the breaking ball," Boone told MLB.com.

However, Stanton is hitting .279 (34-for-122) with nine homers and 18 RBIs away from Yankee Stadium. And at Nationals Park, he has a career average of .289 with 20 homers and 41 RBIs in 54 games.

Gray is 0-0 with a 4.74 ERA in three starts against the Nationals. He gave up a three-run homer to rookie Juan Soto last Wednesday in a 5-4 loss to Washington when he allowed four runs on seven hits in five innings.

Fedde gave up four runs and six hits in five innings in a no-decision last week at Yankee Stadium.

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