Davey Johnson running low on answers
Davey Johnson has tried to remain positive throughout the Nationals' offensive struggles this season, insisting he has faith in his hitters and that he's confident things will get better before it's too late.
But after watching that lineup, on the heels of a 23-runs-in-48-hours explosion, turned into mincemeat by Wily Peralta, Kyle Lohse and the Brewers bullpen on back-to-back nights, the Nationals manager looked and sounded as hopeless as he's been all year.
"It's putting me in the looney bin," Johnson said.
Wednesday night's 4-1 loss left the Nationals right back where they started, sporting a .500 record, with a lineup that still can't produce on a consistent basis and a pitching staff and defense that can't be perfect even though they know they have to be given the offensive woes.
It would be one thing if this club never gave any reason to believe a resurrection was possible, but the nature of Sunday and Monday's victories — by a combined score of 23-7 — couldn't be ignored. Production suddenly came from every corner of the lineup, which was only bolstered by Bryce Harper's return from the disabled list and now looked potent top-to-bottom.
So, what happened the last two nights, when that exact same lineup was shut out by Peralta and Co., then held to one run by Lohse and Francisco Rodriguez?
"I mean, it looks like we're giving good at-bats," Johnson said. "We're just not getting it done. I don't really have any answers."
The Nationals certainly had no answers on Wednesday for Lohse, the veteran right-hander who carried a three-hit shutout into the seventh inning, served up Anthony Rendon's solo homer but then set down the last four batters he faced to complete his evening without breaking a sweat despite sweltering conditions on an early July evening in the District.
"He was working both sides of the plate, using all of his pitches," Rendon said. "That's what a good pitcher does. He was on tonight."
Which meant Ross Detwiler and the defense behind him had to be in top form, as well, recognizing there was no margin for error. Neither was able to live up to that lofty standard.
Detwiler, after opening the game with four scoreless innings, gave up two runs in the fifth and another two in the sixth. Harper's error — he dropped a line drive hit directly at him to begin the sixth inning — contributed to the overall cause, but Detwiler himself wasn't able to pick up his teammate and leave the runners stranded.
"When it was time to make a pitch, I just didn't," the left-hander said. "I kind of threw the ball down the middle on both of them, and they did what they needed to do to score the runs."
The Nationals trailed 4-0 when Detwiler departed from the game after the sixth, and they still trailed 4-1 when they stepped to the plate trying to mount a last-ditch rally against Rodriguez in the ninth. They at least gave themselves a chance against the Brewers closer, getting a one-out single from Ryan Zimmerman and a two-out walk from Ian Desmond and bringing Rendon to the plate representing the tying run.
The rookie battled Rodriguez to a 2-2 count, then lofted a flyball to center field, deep enough to leave some in the crowd of 28,920 thinking it had a chance to go but ultimately not even reaching the warning track.
"We were in it to the end," Desmond said. "Early on in the season, we would just roll over, and that's a loss. But we fought. We were in that ballgame. The tying run came to the plate. We didn't win, but it was a step in the right direction."
The Nationals can't settle for steps in the right direction much longer, though. They're now into the second half of the season, they remain a .500 club and they need a win in Thursday's early, 11:05 a.m. game just to salvage a four-game split with the last-place Brewers.
"Well, I'm glad we're coming back early in the morning to get this taste out of our mouth," Johnson said. "I'm happy for that."
Unless his guys can score more than a handful of runs, though, that sour taste will continue to linger.