Fister, Nationals hard-luck losers in pitchers duel

Fister, Nationals hard-luck losers in pitchers duel
August 1, 2014, 9:45 pm
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GAME IN A NUTSHELL: The Nationals, to the surprise of nobody, got another strong start from Doug Fister. They got some quality defense from a host of players, including Jayson Werth and the just-acquired Asdrubal Cabrera. And they consistently hit the ball hard against Philadelphia right-hander Roberto Hernandez.

Sounds like the formula for a win, right? Not exactly. Somehow, the Nationals weren't able to turn those well-struck balls into actual runs and thus were left to suffer a hard-luck loss to the last-place Phillies, who surprisingly have taken the first two games of this series.

Fister was done in by a misplay in left field by Bryce Harper, leading to the night's first run, and then a Marlon Byrd solo homer that snapped a 1-1 tie. He wound up suffering only his third loss in 15 starts this season. Hernandez, meanwhile, lived on the edge all night but managed to escape thanks to at least a half-dozen smoked line drives hit directly at one of his defenders.

The Nationals had one last shot in the bottom of the ninth, getting 1-out singles from Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond. But Papelbon struck out Harper on a 3-2 splitter, then got Cabrera on three straight pitches to end the game and leave the crowd of 28,410 muttering on the way out of the ballpark. So all of a sudden, the offensively challenged Nationals have lost six of their last nine games. That slump coincides with the loss of Ryan Zimmerman to a significant hamstring strain.

HITTING LOWLIGHT: What happened to the Nationals' offense? Or, more specifically, their power stroke? They have now gone 83 innings since their last home run (Adam LaRoche in the seventh inning at Colorado on July 22). They did, as stated above, hit the ball exceptionally hard tonight, only to have all kinds of bad luck with their placement of said liners. But at some point, you need your big boppers to actually drive the ball over the fence. And right now, they simply can't do that. Cause for concern? Maybe not quite yet, but it's approaching that territory.

PITCHING HIGHLIGHT: Fister certainly deserved a better fate as well as he pitched tonight. The right-hander had two small hiccups — a 3-batter stretch in the second that produced a run, then a sinker left over the plate to Byrd in the sixth — but that was it. He struck out five batters over seven innings, got a bunch of groundball outs and got some nice defense behind him, particularly from Cabrera in his first game with the Nationals and his first game at second base in five years. In the end, seven innings of 2-run ball should be good enough to earn the win. In this case, it wasn't for Fister.

KEY STAT: With a fifth-inning single, Denard Span has now reached base in 27 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the majors.

UP NEXT: Game 3 of this 4-game series sees Jordan Zimmermann getting the ball for the Nationals against veteran A.J. Burnett of the Phillies. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. Saturday evening.