- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 22, 2009

They came to welcome Stephen Strasburg to the District but got only a brief in-game hello from the recently signed No. 1 pick. So the crowd of 26,307 at Nationals Park on Friday night - many of whom paid only $1 to get in thanks to a Strasburg special offer - were left to root for the home team to win a ballgame.

They didn’t get much help there either.

With their future ace in attendance hours after his introductory news conference, the Washington Nationals dropped another ballgame, suffering a 7-3 loss at the hands of the Milwaukee Brewers to spoil what could have been a memorable evening on South Capitol Street.

By the end of the night, Strasburg might have been wondering one of two things: 1) “What was I thinking signing with these guys?” or 2) “Get me out there on the mound ASAP so I can help them win some games.”

Though he probably believes the latter, that scenario is highly unlikely to materialize. The Nationals will take the cautious route with the flamethrowing right-hander, sending him to Florida to get his arm in shape and not giving serious consideration to calling him up before the end of the season.

So a Washington club that has dropped four straight to open this homestand while falling to a major league worst 43-79 will have to go at it with what they’ve already got. At the moment, that group isn’t getting it done.

“I don’t really look at it as anything other than I’m not pleased we didn’t win the ballgame,” interim manager Jim Riggleman said. “I’m not pleased we didn’t win those ballgames against Colorado [earlier in the week]. I don’t get too much into the emotional stuff. That stuff’s just natural.”

The Nationals’ starter Friday night, J.D. Martin, hardly has the same pedigree as Strasburg, and even hardcore baseball fans are unlikely to know his name. But the 26-year-old right-hander, unbeknownst to many, has a somewhat similar background.

Martin was once a high draft pick himself, selected 35th by the Cleveland Indians in 2001, only to have his career derailed by Tommy John surgery four years later.

It wasn’t until last month that Martin finally realized his dream of pitching in the big leagues, and though his performance to date has been hit-or-miss, he has shown some encouraging signs of progress through seven outings with Washington.

“I feel like every outing I get more comfortable and more comfortable,” he said. “I’m starting to build more confidence.”

Martin (2-3) did make a few too many mistakes Friday night and paid the price for them. Prince Fielder smoked the first pitch he saw in the first inning for a two-run homer. Casey McGehee added a solo shot of his own in the fourth.

Martin, though, held his own and did enough to keep his team in the ballgame, pitching into the seventh before allowing his fourth run of the evening. That might have been good enough to earn the win, but the Nationals’ once-potent lineup was once again held in check.

“Our pitchers are keeping us in games,” first baseman Adam Dunn said. “We’re just not scoring runs like we have. Or need to.”

Milwaukee right-hander Braden Looper looked as if he might be vulnerable when he quickly allowed two runs in the bottom of the first thanks to a leadoff double by Nyjer Morgan and a towering homer by Dunn into the second deck down the right-field line.

But that’s all the offense Washington would mount against Looper, who allowed only two hits after Dunn’s homer and was never seriously threatened again before departing after the sixth.

Ryan Zimmerman did blast a homer (his career-high 25th) against Trevor Hoffman to open the ninth, but by then it was too late.

“It’s hard to keep up the pace we had,” Zimmerman said. “I mean, we expect to do that every night. But we’re facing good pitching every night. They’re going to win sometimes, and unfortunately the last four games, they’ve gotten the better of us.”

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