Harper: 'I could (not) care less who I face'
DETROIT — At the end of yet another lopsided loss, inside a disconsolate clubhouse full of players who slowly are coming to the realization this season is beyond repair, the youngest guy in the room stood up and offered a rare-but-impassioned plea for his teammates, coaches and manager not to give up on 2013.
"You've got to have heart right now," Bryce Harper said following an 11-1 trouncing at the hands of the Tigers. "You've got to play as a family, and everybody's got to want it, starting with the manager on down to everybody."
Whether the Nationals collectively have been showing much heart or not in recent weeks is up for debate. The results on the field are not.
They've lost 14 of their last 20 games, a stretch that had already included scores of 8-3, 9-2 and 11-0 prior to Wednesday's blowout. They've scored zero or one run in seven of those 14 losses, not to mention 30 total times in 108 games this season.
As the season enters its final two months, the prohibitive World Series favorites on Opening Day now sit at 52-56, at least 10 games behind Atlanta in the NL East.
"I'm seeing good effort," manager Davey Johnson insisted. "The attitude's fine. It's just the results aren't too good."
Johnson's star, 20-year-old left fielder didn't necessarily echo those sentiments when asked if he thought the Nationals currently lack the "heart" and sense of "family" he alluded to earlier.
"I mean, absolutely," Harper replied. "I'm not the one to speak on it. I try to be a leader, but I'm younger. I think there's things that we can do better, and I think everybody knows that. We're a better team than we're showing right now."
They didn't show much during this brief, two-game series at Comerica Park, getting swept by a combined score of 16-2 and looking completely over-matched by the defending AL champs.
The situation reached a new low point on Wednesday, with Gio Gonzalez torched for 10 runs in only 3 1/3 innings, matching Jason Simontacchi (June 19, 2007) for the most runs allowed in Nationals history. Over the course of one painful hour on the mound, the left-hander saw his season ERA skyrocket from 2.97 to 3.57.
"This ain't going to dictate who I am as a pitcher," Gonzalez said. "I'm going to go out there and keep pitching how I pitch and try to get more wins for the team. Today, I couldn't help out as much as possible, and I feel bad because I feel like I let the team down, especially when they needed that over the hill, that push, to go in the right direction."
Does a loss like this, during a stretch of losing like this, leave the clubhouse frustrated?
"No, I mean, that was two months ago," first baseman Adam LaRoche said. "We were scratching our heads two months ago trying to figure out what was going on. Again, we find it for a couple days and then it's gone. It's a group effort. We're all in this together. Fight to the end, see what happens. But stretches like these last two get pretty old."
The end is beginning to draw closer. The trade deadline came and went Wednesday with nary a move by general manager Mike Rizzo. That could be construed either as a show of confidence in the current roster to right the ship on its own, or as an admission of the unlikeliness of a late-season surge from this club.
"I like my ballclub," Johnson said. "We've got the talent. We just have to start expressing it."
The Nationals haven't been expressing it on the field. But the youngest member of their roster expressed plenty in the clubhouse late Wednesday.
"We play the Braves nine games. This [thing] ain't over," Harper said. "I really don't think it's over. So we've just got to keep going, keep grinding and turn into the family that we were last year. ...
"It all starts with having good camaraderie in the clubhouse, having an upbeat clubhouse every single day, having an upbeat manager and staff every single day, no matter what. We could be 10 games up, but we've got two more months. We've got two more months of baseball. And if we play like we're capable, we will win this and we will do it. I know that for a fact, because we've got a great team, a great organization and we have guys on this team that are unbelievable."