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Nats’ trip ends with another zero

- The Washington Times - Monday, July 28, 2008

LOS ANGELES | The numbers do not lie. They are ugly, and the Washington Nationals can't hide from them.

Six losses in a row. Three shutouts in the last four days. An average of four hits a game during that latter stretch.

And a season that continues to plummet to new lows, in this case 29 games under the .500 mark following a 2-0 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday.

The Nationals aren't making any excuses for their performance.

"I think we all feel like we're better than what we're doing," right fielder Austin Kearns said. "But we've got to do it, too. It's been a struggle all year. We've got to do better."

The Nationals (38-67) aren't even giving themselves a chance these days. An offense that ranks last in the majors in several statistical categories was even worse during an abysmal week on the West Coast.

After losing a pair of close, well-played games in San Francisco, Washington scored two runs in a four-game stretch. The team hit .133 and slugged .225 in that span.

Given those circumstances, a manager might expect to see signs of his players trying too hard. But as Manny Acta pointed out: "You can't see that many signs when we have been shut out three of the last four games. There haven't been that many opportunities for us to try to do anything."

Still, there were a couple of opportunities Sunday for the Nationals.

After getting a leadoff single from catcher Wil Nieves in the third, pitcher Jason Bergmann came up in a bunting situation. It seemed simple enough, but nothing about holding a bat is simple for Bergmann, who is going to be hard-pressed to lose the title of "worst-hitting pitcher in the majors" this season.

Bergmann has zero hits in 27 at-bats with 15 strikeouts. More astounding, he has yet to drop a sacrifice bunt successfully.

And he couldn't do it Sunday. His offering at Clayton Kershaw's fastball came out too fast, and Kershaw fired to second to begin a 1-6-3 double play that killed any chance of a Nationals rally.

"It's been bugging me all season," Bergmann said of his bunting struggles. "I'm working really hard on that. I'm happy I didn't strike out doing it, but at the same time I did cost us."

Washington did get another chance to score on Kershaw (1-3) in the fifth, with Lastings Milledge beating out a drag bunt for a leadoff single. Paul Lo Duca followed with a slow grounder to the left side of the infield, and that's when Milledge tried to make something spectacular happen.

As third baseman Casey Blake threw to first to get Lo Duca, Milledge kept running, trying to snag an extra base in the process. It's a play that often catches the defense asleep, but this time Dodgers shortstop Nomar Garciaparra read it correctly and beat Milledge to third to apply the tag and complete a 5-3-6 double play.

"They had to make three perfect plays, and they made them," Milledge said. "They got me. It was good on their part. I thought it was a great decision on my part, and I went for it."

Making matters more frustrating, Nieves followed with a double that would have scored Milledge had he still been on base.

Acta didn't fault his young outfielder for taking a chance on the play.

"He's an aggressive guy," the manager said. "We'd rather see him do that kind of stuff than just play station to station. It just backfired on us. We're trying to manufacture some runs. These kids, sometimes they try to do more."

There was nothing more for the Nationals to do on this day. Kershaw, a promising rookie hurler, earned his first career win with six shutout innings. A trio of Los Angeles relievers then finished things off, handing Bergmann yet another disappointing loss in the process.

Bergmann (1-8) again did enough to earn a win - six innings of two-run ball - but he was done in by his only two mistakes of the day - a solo homer by James Loney in the second and an RBI single by Russell Martin in the fifth.

Sunday marked the sixth time Bergmann has allowed two earned runs or fewer in his last seven starts. His record during that time is 0-4.

"It sucks, but the team's not winning," he said. "I'm not going to be a selfish guy and say I wish I could be winning more than this guy. Everybody deserves to win. The team deserves to win."