- The Washington Times - Friday, August 21, 2009

The week of Aug. 16-22 will, without question, be regarded as a highlight of the 2009 season for the Washington Nationals. It’s hard to top the signing and public introduction of Stephen Strasburg as the future ace of the pitching staff and the naming of Mike Rizzo as general manager.

But there have been ballgames played this week as well, and the results have not exactly jibed with the positive news that has taken place off the field.

A 4-1 loss Thursday night capped a three-game sweep at the hands of the Colorado Rockies. All three were well-played, nip-and-tuck games. But all three ended in loss for a Washington club that has been trying to boost its image around the sport not only through signings and GM hirings but through better performance on the field.

The Nationals haven’t been able to live up to the latter end of that bargain this week. Despite returning home on a three-game winning streak, they’ve reverted back to a lesser form. Perhaps surprisingly, they’ve lost the offensive oomph that had defined their second-half success. A lineup that had been averaging six runs since the All-Star break was held to eight in three games against Colorado.

Thursday’s finale featured a scant four hits by the home team, hardly enough offense to give the crowd of 18,036 that gathered on a sweltering night reason to peel themselves off their plastic seats. The primary victim was right-hander Garrett Mock, who at times dominated but faded as his evening advanced and wound up suffering his first loss in nearly a month.

As much as the Nationals rave about Mock’s potential as a starter, there has always been concern about his penchant for fading in the middle innings. He’s yet to last more than six innings in his eight career starts. And even though he cruised early Thursday — he retired the first 10 Rockies players he faced and recorded eight strikeouts in five innings — he did regress as the evening wore on.

In the fifth, Mock had two men on base with two outs, though he briefly appeared to get out of the jam by striking out Carlos Gonzalez on a 1-2 pitch in the dirt. As plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt signaled strike three, Washington’s fielders began to jog toward the dugout. But second-base umpire Doug Eddings overruled the call, insisting Gonzalez fouled the pitch off.

Interim manager Jim Riggleman came out to argue, but it was to no avail. Everyone retook their places on the diamond. And sure enough, Gonzalez blooped Mock’s next pitch into left field for an RBI double. A run-scoring wild pitch soon followed, and that effectively ended the pitcher’s night. Riggleman sent up a pinch-hitter for Mock in the bottom of the inning, spoiling his chance at a third straight win.

Had the Nationals been able to mount an offensive charge against right-hander Jason Hammel, Mock might have found himself in a better position. Instead, he wound up on the short end. Hammel, who has allowed more than 1.3 hits per inning this season, allowed just three hits in seven innings.

The Nationals threatened only twice. They loaded the bases with two outs in the fourth but squandered the chance when Elijah Dukes grounded into a forceout. They finally broke through in the sixth, when Adam Dunn roped a 2-0 pitch from Hammel to right field for a double, scoring Cristian Guzman and cutting the deficit to 2-1.

But that’s as close as Washington got. The Rockies tacked on a pair of late runs, and the Nationals’ stuck-in-the-mud lineup went down quietly into the stifling night.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide