These days if you get ahead against the Nationals, you’re probably going to end up walking away with the victory. Sure, you could say that in general about any baseball game, but the 2013 Nats have had major trouble coming back into ballgames.
So when the Orioles took a three-run lead in the fifth inning on Monday in their 6-2 win before 41,260 at Nationals Park, they essentially hit a mark the Nats have yet to overcome this season. Each and every time Washington has been down by more than two runs, they have gone on to lose.
Their offense as a whole has been struggling, and when they’re behind matters seem to get even worse. And when facing the second best offense in the majors in the Baltimore Orioles, the two runs Washington put up just aren’t going to cut it.
“I don't think anyone's pressing,” Zimmerman said. “I just think we haven't scored any runs. Their guy threw the ball well today. We got some hits just couldn't score any of them. Against a team like that, that does score runs, you're going to have to find a way to score more than they do.”
It certainly didn’t help the Nationals that pitcher Gio Gonzalez was not on his game. After submitting four consecutive quality starts, Gonzalez labored through 5 2/3 innings against Baltimore. He allowed four earned runs off eight hits and four walks, tying the most batters he’s allowed on base all season.
Gonzalez was asked afterwards if he is having trouble being consistent, as he sits with a 3.90 ERA on the year through his first 11 starts.
“You’re entitled to have a bad game once in a while, I’m not going to be perfect,” he said.
“But at the same time, I felt like I was in the zone, I felt like I was attacking them, I felt like I was being where I wanted to be, velocity was still up, and that’s a good hitting team - you’ve got to give them credit.”
Gonzalez got through the first three innings scoreless and entered the fourth with a one-run lead. But the fourth inning brought the heart of the Orioles’ lineup up for the third and then fourth time of the game. Suddenly the hits started falling in bunches.
Chris Davis led off the frame with a walk and Matt Wieters followed with a single. Davis then moved to third after tagging up on a Steve Pearce flyout. The Orioles’ eighth hitter, Yamaico Navarro then worked a full count and took the seventh pitch of the at-bat to left field for an RBI single. It was a fastball inside, but Navarro came around on it and chopped it over Zimmerman’s head.
“It was a fastball up and in, jam shot and he found a hit,” Gonzalez said. “It wasn’t hit soft enough for us to make a play and he just lined it right where it needed to be. That’s basically it.”
Gonzalez said he wished he could have stopped the bleeding right then and there, but failed to and let the game get away from him.
Both Navarro and Wieters were moved into scoring position by a Jason Hammel bunt and each then scored on a Nick Markakis single into the gap in left-center field.
The Orioles added another run in the fifth inning off Gonzalez after Adam Jones and Davis led off with a double and a single. Jones scored from third on a Wieters sacrifice fly.
While Gonzalez had a long afternoon, Hammel survived an early score to pitch eight innings for the first time this season. He allowed eight hits and two total runs, but walked nobody and had eight strikeouts. He is now 6-0 with a 3.15 ERA against the Nats during his career.
The two runs the Nats scored were off a Tyler Moore double in the second inning and a Zimmerman single in the sixth. Two runs off eight total hits for the team, not the timely hitting the Nats needed to overcome the powerful Orioles’ offense. Washington left 14 guys on base in the loss and went 5-for-15 with runners in scoring position.
Struggling as an offense overall this season, the Nats have been piling up hits as of late, just not runs. In their recent homestand, four games into it so far, they have 39 total hits but are average just four runs a game.
Johnson hopes the hits will start matching up with each other and the Nats can start getting more runners across the plate.
“That’s been kind of our M.O.,” Johnson said. “We’re showing signs of coming out of it hopefully.”
Zimmerman, hitting third for the Nats for much of this season, is hopeful the team is close to breaking through.
“We just haven't been able to consistently, up and down the lineup, put together good at-bats day in and day out. When you can't do that you don't score runs,” he said.
The Nationals will face rookie pitcher Kevin Gausman on Tuesday, perhaps providing a chance to score some runs. Suzuki knows they haven’t hit their stride yet, but is confident they will and soon.
“For the most part it’s going out there and keep battling. This game is mentally wearing,” he said.
“That’s the ebbs and flows. Sometimes it’s like that, but when we do get on a roll a little bit, it’s going to be fun.”