Nationals Fall Short In Another Late-Inning Rally

It looked like it was going to be a really rough day for the Washington Nationals through five innings on Thursday at Nationals Park. Pirates starter John McDonald had electric stuff. He struck out 10 of the first 15 batters he faced, and took a no-hitter into the sixth.

Things came unraveled for McDonald in the sixth though when he gave up a lead off double to Jesus Flores followed by a double to pinch hitter Steve Lombardozzi, which made for a second and third with no outs situation. After Ian Desmond grounded out and Roger Bernadina struck out, Ryan Zimmerman finally came through with a two-out RBI single to right field and advanced to second on the throw. Then, it was the Nationals best hitter, Adam LaRoche, who shocked just about everyone by motoring to third for an RBI triple on a misplayed ball by Jose Tabata. That made it 4-3, and we had a ball game.

In the seventh, Craig Stammen gave up a rare run, but he kept the damage to a minimum and still has a ridiculous 1.64 ERA. In the Nats half of the inning, they looked to get a rally going with a lead off double by Danny Espinosa followed by a walk by Rick Ankiel, but they weren’t able to score. All in all, the Nats stranded five runners in the final three innings, which resulted in a 5-3 loss.

Some thoughts:

- Jordan Zimmermann was not at all sharp tonight, though he muscled through six innings. He gave up three homers, two to Andrew McCutchen. When Davey Johnson was asked about pitching to McCutchen, he said, “We certainly haven’t figured out how to pitch him. He’s gotta be hitting about five or six hundred against us.” He’s not far off. Zimmermann now boasts a 2.68 ERA and a 3.30 xFIP. It’s still very good, so let’s not overreact about it, okay?

- Bryce Harper went 0-for-3 with a walk. He continues to line up fastballs, but he sees very few of them in each at-bat. If Jayson Werth hadn’t broken his wrist, Harper may have been demoted when Michael Morse returned to the bigs. Harper may have just been the every day center fielder, but GM Mike Rizzo hasn’t ruled out sending him back down to get some more at-bats in the minors.

- Steve Lombardozzi went 1-for-3 after entering the game in the sixth inning and is now hitting .318 with a .392 OBP in 77 plate appearances. It’s going to be increasingly difficult to get him playing time when Michael Morse returns in a couple weeks, but the Nats need to make every effort. This kid is no joke, and it’s time he’s treated with a bit more respect than he’s gotten.

- I really didn’t like the Jesus Flores sacrifice bunt in the seventh. Yes, it got the tying run into scoring position, but it gave away an out late in the game with a pitcher in Juan Cruz that looked uncomfortable. Flores ahready recorded a double by that point and could have easily gotten a hit. I just don’t like giving up outs that late in the game for any reason.

- Despite being 23-15 on the season, the Nats are 0-8 in sweep opportunities. Even with back-to-back two-game series against two bad offensive teams, the Padres and the Pirates, they weren’t able to get back to back wins to get the brooms out. As long as they keep playing well, it’s not a big deal, but it’s certainly worth noting.

Joe Drugan

About Joe Drugan

Joe is the Managing Editor of The Nats Blog and host of the Nats Talk On The Go podcast. He's been blogging about the Nationals since 2010 and with The Nats Blog since 2011.