Through three consecutive wins against the Reds it seemed as if the Nationals had everything going right for them. Their pitching was airtight and their offense suddenly woke up from its slumber from the series before. They were also getting fortunate bounces and calls, something that frustrated them during a previous losing streak.
But the Nats were in the middle of a four-game series against Cincinnati, not three, and had one more game to go on Sunday. And after seeing the Nats’ lineup three times, the Reds made the most of their opportunities and rode a hot pitcher to a 5-2 win over Washington before 36,457 at Nationals Park.
“When you play three good games like that, that’s why four game series are hard,” Ian Desmond said. “It’s hard to go out there and they got a pretty good scouting report on us after three offensive games.”
Nationals starter Ross Detwiler was able to prevent the Reds from making the game a blowout, allowing just one extra base hit through five innings of work despite giving up 11 total hits. The Reds made plenty of contact, but ten of them were singles and four didn’t even leave the infield.
“It happens, he pitched great and luck turns against you,” Desmond said. “That’s what happened today. They didn’t really square him up too well, but they were able to do enough.”
The four singles that didn’t exit the infield were spread throughout the game but each uniquely different. One ball hit the third base bag and bounced up and over a diving Anthony Rendon, another ricocheted off Detwiler’s thigh, the third was a weak pop up that fell right over Detwiler’s head, and the fourth was snagged by Rendon at third but late on the throw to first.
Detwiler was pestered with singles all afternoon, but never gave up a big homer or a really big hit. Still, the lefty did not feel his best on Sunday and was not pleased with his performance.
“I gotta make better pitches at the right times,” he said. “That’s something you gotta fight through and keep battling.”
Manager Davey Johnson agreed Detwiler was not as effective as he was in his previous starts this season.
“They bounced back with their bats, but when Det’s not really sharp, that’s gonna happen,” Johnson said. “There are times like that where he needs to use his whole arsenal. But he’ll get there.”
Detwiler gave up two runs in the first inning on a single up the middle by Brandon Phillips. Zack Cozart got on with a one out single and was sent to third on a double by Joey Votto. Phillips then took a 2-2 fastball straight into center field to score the runners.
Detwiler missed his spot on the pitch, aiming to go inside but saw it fall right down the chute.
“I didn’t want to throw the ball right down the middle,” Detwiler said. “But it’s just one of those things where I didn’t have a good feel for anything today.”
The Reds added another run in the second, getting started with the infield single off the third base bag, a grounder hit by pitcher Tony Cingrani. Shin-Soo Choo then got on because of a catching error by Danny Espinosa at second trying to turn a double play. Cozart then walked before Votto singled home the run.
Cincinnati scored a fourth run off Detwiler in the fourth inning, beginning the inning with the single off Detwiler’s thigh, this one hit by Corky Miller. Miller was bunted over by Cingrani and then reached home safely on a Cozart grounder because of an errant throw by Rendon to first.
Two more runs for the Reds after unfortunate bounces commenced rallies, things that happen in baseball but rarely multiple times a game.
“Ross threw great,” Adam LaRoche said. “Some of the hits he gave up, some of the infield hits, some of the bad breaks, the ball landed on the line for a double, that's baseball. We've gone through a stretch of a lot of games where we're not getting a ton of breaks and the other guys are.”
While Detwiler was having a long afternoon with four runs through five - three of them earned- Cingrani of the Reds baffled the Nats’ lineup with 11 strikeouts, two hits, and a walk in six innings of work.
Rendon was Cingrani’s teammate at Rice University and says the lefty with a deceptive motion is even better now with professional coaching.
“He improved his pitches a little bit more, he's more consistent now, he knows where he's throwing the ball now. If you reach this level, I think you improved,” Rendon said.
“Cingrani is a great pitcher, he worked both sides of the plate, that’s what a pitcher is supposed to do and that’s what he did.”
Desmond was also impressed with the rookie who is now 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA through three starts this season.
“He’s got good stuff, he reminded me a lot of Detwiler,” Desmond said. “He used his fastball a lot, changed speeds well, he was pretty good.”
Cingrani was effective for most of his start, but gave the Nats opportunities they just couldn’t take advantage of. Washington had the bases loaded in the fifth before LaRoche struck out to end the inning. LaRoche’s hitless streak is now 0-for-26 with 13 of them being strikeouts. In Sunday’s loss he was 0-for-4 with three whiffs.
“I don't know. I don't know what to tell you,” LaRoche said. “Come out of a game like today, game where you leave some guys on base, and we end up losing, makes it a lot tougher.”
Rendon was also involved in two baserunning mishaps that could have cost the Nationals runs. In the fifth inning he led off with a single to left field. Two outs later he was rounding the bases when left fielder Xavier Paul fumbled a line drive hit directly at him by Denard Span. Rendon rounded third and headed home, but Paul threw to the plate and had him by a few steps.
"It was two outs. I took off and I saw the left fielder and it looked like he was going to let the ball drop, I guess he lost it in the lights or something," he said.
“I didn’t want to be thrown out at third. You never want to make the last out at third base.”
Rendon also had a chance to score in the seventh inning off relief pitcher Sean Marshall. The rookie was on first when Kurt Suzuki slapped a double off the wall in left field. Desmond scored from second, but Rendon stayed at third despite Paul dropping the ball while attempting to scoop it up. Rendon said afterwards he was held by third base coach Trent Jewett.
“He held me up, I gotta listen to the coach,” Rendon said.
The Nationals also had two defensive errors in the game, bringing their team season total to 23 in just 25 games. LaRoche explained the problems in the field as a parallel to their inconsistency at the plate.
“It's the same thing offensively. We know we're a great offensive club and we haven't scratched the surface of what we can do as far as putting up some runs,” he said. “Same thing goes on defense. We've got a great defensive club with a lot of Gold glove type infielders and it's just not showing that right now. That's something that we need to turn around. It doesn't help our starting pitching.”
Despite dropping the final game of the series, the Nats will quickly turn the page as they head to Atlanta for another four-game set. Earlier this season Washington was swept at home by the Braves, commencing a stretch in which they lost nine of 12 games. Now having won three of four, the Nationals have a chance to even the score against their first place division rival.
“It's a big series,” LaRoche said. “Regardless of what time of the year it is, this is the time that we can turn the tides a little bit. They came in here and killed us so it'll be nice to try to even that out and keep the momentum going a little bit.”