Balester's sixth costs Nats in 7-1 loss

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For five innings on Monday, Collin Balester looked like the pitcher the Nationals keep hoping he’ll eventually become. He was striking out batters, keeping the ball down in the zone and pitching out of the few jams he encountered.

Then Balester got to the sixth, and the Nationals saw the part of him that’s still preventing him from developing into a legitimate major-league starter.

Balester missed with an 0-2 curveball to Frank Catalanotto that turned into a double. Then, he grooved a 90-mph fastball — several miles per hour slower than he’d been throwing it all day — to Ryan Braun, and Braun predictably smoked it for a two-run homer, his third of the year against the Nats. He gave up a single and a walk, and he was done for the day.

The Brewers scored six runs in the inning, and Balester’s shutout turned into a game the Nats couldn’t win. They ended up falling 7-1.

“He threw a very good five innings, and when he went out there for the sixth, just made some bad pitches,” interim manager Jim Riggleman said. “If I had a crystal ball, I wouldn’t have sent him out there for the sixth. But with 68 pitches and mowing them down through five, obviously he goes back out there.”

Balester has given up 10 home runs this year, and has just one quality start in seven outings. He continues to struggle to be consistent through an entire outing, and you have to wonder how much longer he’ll stay in the mix of the Nats’ top prospects, especially with Stephen Strasburg in the mix now.

“I was able to throw strikes, and they didn’t put very good swings on it,” Balester said. “My curveball in the beginning was pretty good. I kind of tried to do too much with it in the later part of the game, and it got us in trouble.”

The Nats start a nine-game road trip tomorrow in Chicago before heading to St. Louis and San Diego. Mark will be with you for the first half of the trip. Have a good night.

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