Nats’ losing streak reaches four as Scherzer labors through five
BRAVES 5, NATIONALS 2
atlanta — Washington Nationals Manager Dusty Baker has developed countless theories during his decades in professional baseball. One of them is that quality clubs have their starting rotation, bullpen and offense compensate when one of the other facets falters over the course of the season. Those are the variables. Good defense, he posited, should remain constant.
“You go through periods, and go through streaks,” Baker said.
The Nationals experienced one of those for six weeks. They owned one of baseball’s best records in mid-May despite a dreadful bullpen because their offense and starting pitching were two of the best units in the majors. But both inevitably were going to teeter — it just so happens they have synchronized their stumbles during Washington’s road trip while the bullpen problem remains unsolved. The result is their worst
Nationals at Braves Today, 1:30 p.m., MASN2
stretch of the season, one even Max Scherzer couldn’t rectify in Saturday’s rain-delayed, 5-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves, Washington’s fourth straight.
“Nothing lasts forever, good and bad,” Baker said. “Every good team’s going to go on a three- or four-game losing streak. Hopefully this is the end of it tonight.”
The Nationals (25-17) have come to rely on Scherzer for days such as Saturday, when the bullpen could use a breather, when the offense isn’t quite clicking, when the defense hasn’t been all that crisp. They needed the ace to pitch deep into the game, to grab the wheel and steer them clear of their longest losing streak in 2017.
The fact that Scherzer could pitch at all, six days after taking a line drive to the knee and crumbling in pain at Nationals Park, was a minor miracle. But he stayed in that game last week and said he didn’t suffer any ill effects during preparation for Saturday’s outing, which was encouraging for the Nationals because they needed him to continue eating his usual share of innings.
But Scherzer was fighting himself from the beginning at SunTrust Park, unable to consistently command anything besides his slider, which initiated a chain reaction he couldn’t counter. His tendency to give up home runs in bunches surfaced again, and his pitch count soared. He walked off the mound after securing the third out of the fifth inning — his first perfect frame of the day — with 106 pitches on his odometer and the Nationals trailing 3-2.
At that point, the rain had intensified and the grounds crew began rolling out the tarp. The game, official through five innings, was delayed, and Scherzer’s night was over. The Nationals haven’t had a starter complete six innings since Tuesday in Pittsburgh. That’s also the last game they won.
“Just didn’t do a lot of the things right today,” Scherzer said. “A lot of things that are a staple of what I think make me a successful pitcher I just didn’t do. Just could never find a rhythm. I was talking with [pitching coach Mike Maddux] in between innings just trying to find anything, and nothing really seemed to stick.”
It took two batters for the Braves (18-22), who finalized a trade for former St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Matt Adams during the game to replace the injured Freddie Freeman, to register their first hit. It was a drive to the left field wall off Brandon Phillips’s bat. Jayson Werth, who turned 38 on Saturday, chased it down, but the ball bounced off his glove as he crashed into the wall. Phillips ended up at second with a one-out double, and that was where he was stranded.
Scherzer then retired the first two batters he faced in the second inning before going to a full count against Dansby Swanson, who walked. The two-out lapse cost him because Rio Ruiz followed it with his first career home run just over the half-brick wall in right field to give Atlanta a 2-0 edge. Matt Kemp then cracked a leadoff home run in the fourth to extend the lead. The two home runs swelled Scherzer’s season total to nine. They all have come in his past six starts.
“Max is still going to compete, whether he has his best stuff or not his best stuff,” Nationals catcher Matt Wieters said. “But I think today was by far the least command he’s had with his fastball.
Washington finally broke though in the fifth inning with some help from Atlanta starter Bartolo Colon. Two batters after Wieters singled to lead off the inning, Scherzer tapped a chopper to Colon, whose throw to second base sailed into the outfield. Wieters advanced to third and scored on Trea Turner’s single. Werth then drove Scherzer in with another single, which chased Colon, who will celebrate his 44th birthday Wednesday, after 97 pitches. The Braves selected left-hander Ian Krol, a former Nationals farmhand, out of the bullpen to face Bryce Harper. Krol won the battle by getting Harper to pop out. Then he struck out Ryan Zimmerman to strand two runners and limit Washington’s run allotment to two.
And that’s where it stayed after the 1-hour 50-minute rain delay because the Braves’ bullpen, which tossed 32/3 scoreless innings in Friday’s victory, added 42/3 more Saturday. Washington’s bullpen, on the other hand, allowed two more runs.
“It’s just a matter of finding holes and kind of building some innings,” Wieters said. “We haven’t been able to build that kind of big inning that we were early in the year.”
The Nationals walk off the field at the start of a lengthy rain delay in Atlanta. They have now lost four straight, their longest slide of the season, after a 5-2 loss to the Braves.
Nationals shortstop Trea Turner connects on an RBI single to right in the fifth inning. Washington managed two runs on seven hits.