SAN FRANCISCO — As the Washington Nationals tried to reset, refocus and finish their 10-game west coast trip strong, their position players gathered Monday afternoon for their usual pre-series hitters’ meeting.
This one featured a few extra voices, though, as shortstop Ian Desmond and third baseman Ryan Zimmerman took the opportunity to remind their teammates to relax and remember their own unique strengths.
Perhaps the meeting’s effect will be felt in the days and weeks to come. But Monday the Nationals were shut out for the sixth time this season as they fell 8-0 to the San Francisco Giants.
“Last year we did well because each guy played their game and as a team it obviously worked well,” Desmond said of his message to the team. “When things don’t go good, it’s easy to point the finger. I just wanted to express to guys, ‘Hey, do what you do best and that’s all we can ask.’ If everybody does the best job they can, at the end of the day we’re going to be a pretty good ballclub.
“It takes hitting, pitching and defense to win ballgames and right now we’re doing one of the three — sporadically. We’re playing pretty good defense on the balls we can get to, but hitting and pitching have been a little bit of a struggle. There’s no doubt in my mind that it’s all going to turn around, but at this point it’s starting to get a little bit frustrating. At the same time, this is a long season. This is not a game for the mentally weak. You’re going to have to grind through it.”
Thinking back to the offseason and a spring training in which they were so widely lauded they opened the season as World Series favorites, it’s hard to envision a scenario in which the Nationals could’ve expected a night like Monday.
One day after a 13-4 loss to the San Diego Padres, Jayson Werth’s return from a hamstring strain was pushed back again. Bryce Harper, a week removed from a bone-crunching collision with the wall at Dodger Stadium, returned to the lineup but, like so any of his teammates, was held hitless.
Zach Duke and Craig Stammen combined to go six innings but they also combined to allow six runs in the Nationals’ attempt to internally plug the hole in the rotation left as Ross Detwiler deals with a right oblique strain.
The Nationals suffered their eighth loss by five runs or more this season and, while surrendering 17 hits to a team coming off a 1-5 road trip, they were held to just three of their own by Ryan Vogelsong — who just happened to enter the game with an ERA of 8.06.
“I can’t explain it,” manager Davey Johnson said, this night just the latest to be marred by injury news as Ryan Mattheus headed to the disabled list with a self-inflicted broken right hand. The Nationals summoned Fernando Abad and Yunesky Maya from Triple-A Syracuse while optioning outfielder Eury Perez.
“Losing sucks, any way you slice it,” Desmond said of the Nationals seemingly high number of “blowout” losses. “By eight, by one, losing is not easy to swallow. Ever. Especially when you know you have the ballclub to win… Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but we’re going to keep on moving forward.”
The Nationals will go into Tuesday night’s matchup of aces between Matt Cain and Stephen Strasburg hitting .227 as a team. Their on-base percentage sits at .289 and their slugging is below .400 at .367.
They currently have only five players on the active roster hitting over .250 on the season.
“It’s just not happening,” said Zimmerman, who was again one of the few Nationals to get a hit. “We have some guys who are kind of underperforming. It’s still early, but obviously in the middle of May you hope to start getting the ship going the right way. But there’s no use to sit here and complain about it. Just got to go out there and make a change.
“Any time that you underperform or don’t do what you’re supposed to do, it’s frustrating. It’s not going to do us any good tomorrow. Just have to come out and keep working and know that by the end of the year things will even themselves out. The minute you start feeling bad for yourself or start hoping someone else does it, that’s when trouble happens.”
On Monday night the Giants hardly crushed them. Of the seven hits Duke gave up, only one was for extra bases. But it hardly mattered.
He allowed two runs in the first three innings and left two more out there for Stammen to clean up. Both scored, and Stammen surrendered two of his own — one that frame on a double and a single and another on a solo home run by Brandon Belt in the fifth.
Vogelsong was forced from the game after five innings when he fractured his pitching hand while batting in the bottom of the frame, but the Nationals have not come back from a deficit larger than two this season, and they didn’t on Monday.
Looking beaten and beleaguered, Johnson had run out of explanations for his team’s play late Monday night.
“Tomorrow’s another day,” he said. “But today was awful tough.”