Perhaps on another night, or in another season, Taylor Jordan could’ve walked off the mound at Nationals Park and enjoyed the rousing hand the crowd gave him. Perhaps he could’ve smiled as he answered questions about his first career win, and reveled in the progress he’d made as a pitcher the past four months.
It was no small feat for Jordan, a player not even high enough in the organizational ranks to be invited to major league camp this spring, to be descending a mound in the eighth inning of a major league game. He started the 2013 season at Single-A Potomac.
A few weeks ago, he was named as the Nationals’ representative to the MLB Futures Game. Tuesday night he gave the Washington Nationals their best start in days. A glimmer of positivity.
Instead, the 24-year-old was forced only to shrug. His performance, soured at the end by a Pedro Alvarez homer, was reduced to a footnote in the Nationals’ 5-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates Tuesday night. His defense again betrayed him, his offense produced little to support him.
“I would love to get a first win,” Jordan said Tuesday night after tossing 7 2/3 solid innings. “I really wanted the win today, because we needed it. I would love to celebrate one time.”
Ultimately he could not. Ultimately, he alone could not halt the losing streak that has now stretched to five games and includes 10 of the Nationals’ last 12. With assistance from the All-Star break, the Nationals have not won a game in nine days.
Even when they get a performance so overwhelmingly positive from a somewhat unlikely source, as they did Tuesday night, the result does not change.
“Taylor pitched one heck of a ballgame, right when it was needed,” said manager Davey Johnson whose nightmarish return from an enjoyable detour to the All-Star game continued. “Our bullpen was in shambles, and did a great job. He deserved better.”
The Nationals were held to three hits by Pirates rookie Gerrit Cole, who greatly impressed Johnson, and the duo of relievers who followed. Their only run came on a solo homer by catcher Wilson Ramos. The last eight runs they’ve scored, a stretch that spans three full games, have all come on home runs.
In their last 78 chances with runners in scoring position, the Nationals have gotten only six hits — a number so low it seems impossible. Only four of those hits have scored a run.
Late Tuesday night, as silence filled their clubhouse and most players made themselves scarce, Jayson Werth poked his head out from the back corner where his locker is housed and summoned reporters his way.
“We’re a little snake-bit,” he said, two days after saying he would not answer “gloom and doom” questions about his team. “Things aren’t going our way and we’re not winning games. We need to find a way to win a game. The silver lining is really no one else is winning, either.”
Werth was correct in that assertion. Since the All-Star break, the National League East has been a wasteland. The New York Mets are 3-2, the Miami Marlins are 2-3, the Atlanta Braves are 2-3, and the Philadelphia Phillies are 1-3. Even with five straight losses the Nationals have lost just two games in the standings to the Braves.
That means nothing, however, if their play does not improve.
Tuesday, more mistakes felled them. The Nationals have struggled mightily for big reasons — their offense ranks among the worst in the league, the back end of their rotation has been injured or unstable — but they’ve also struggled to execute the more routine.
Twice in the second inning they had potential double-play balls, once they got one out before a takeout slide eliminated the chance. The other opportunity, a possible inning-ender flew from Ryan Zimmerman’s hand into — and quickly out of — second baseman Anthony Rendon’s glove.
“I think I just got a little too quick with it,” said Rendon, who has all of 40 games under his belt as a second baseman. “I tried to turn it a little quicker than I thought.”
“He’s been pretty good about it, this was the first sort of blip where he peeked,” Johnson said. “It’s not easy, and having basically no experience over there, he’s done a great job.”
Ultimately, the mistake itself mattered not. It was just another bullet point in a list of reasons for another Nationals loss. They have played 100 games this season, and they have one fewer loss than the Chicago Cubs, who are currently in the process of selling off most of their parts.
“It seems like all year we’ve been talking about, ‘It’s going to turn,’” Werth said. “It just really hasn’t yet… The old cliche stands true: Just one day at a time. We just need to pull back a little bit and put things in perspective and look at the big picture.
“I’ve said it before: I believe in this team. I know it’s getting into late July but still a lot of ballgames to be played. I still believe in these guys.”