- The Washington Times - Monday, May 11, 2009

PHOENIX | The Washington Nationals can score runs and hit the ball out of the park - that much they’ve made clear so far this season.

But what good is a robust offense when the pitching staff gives up even more to the opposition?

Too often this year the Nationals have walked off the field dismayed at a wasted effort at the plate because of a poor pitching performance, which made the scene Sunday afternoon at Chase Field all too familiar.

Despite four home runs (two apiece from Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham) and three hits from Ryan Zimmerman (who extended his hitting streak to 28 games), Washington suffered a 10-8 loss to an Arizona club that entered with the worst offense in baseball but broke out to avoid a weekend sweep.

Five Washington pitchers combined to allow 10 runs and 17 hits during a 3-hour, 52-minute Mother’s Day marathon. Thus continued a disturbing trend for manager Manny Acta’s club, which already has lost five times this season when scoring six or more runs. Last year’s squad did that only nine times in 161 games.

“You’re going to lose some ballgames where you score over six runs here and there,” Acta said. “But if you have any type of decent ballgame, any time you score over six runs, you should be able to win the ballgame. And it’s just not happening enough here.”

Washington (10-19) was in position to earn its fourth straight win on more than one occasion, holding leads of 4-3 in the fifth and 6-5 in the sixth. But a shaky pitching staff kept giving the lead back, with Logan Kensing serving as the prime culprit.

The struggling reliever came on for the sixth inning trying to protect his team’s lead but gave it back and then some. Kensing (0-2) faced seven batters. Five recorded hits. Four wound up scoring.

Put it all together and the right-hander now owns a 12.00 ERA for the season - 15.43 in five games since his acquisition from the Florida Marlins.

“We needed him to pitch at least two innings today,” Acta said. “And we couldn’t get one inning out of him.”

Kensing wasn’t the only pitcher to blame in this one. Seeking their first sweep of a road series in nearly a year, the Nationals were hoping for a solid start out of Scott Olsen. The left-hander, though, was in trouble from the beginning and wound up putting at least one man on base in each of the five innings he started.

Olsen particularly struggled to make pitches with a chance to get out of those innings. The first three runs he allowed came with two outs. Eric Byrnes added a two-run homer in the fifth, and when Olsen was tagged in the foot by a comebacker two batters later, his day was over.

“My outing was awful,” he said. “Nothing positive. Lots of runs. Lots of hits. Not great control on my off-speed pitches. Just not very good.”

The starter’s final line - five runs, 10 hits and three walks on 109 pitches in 4 1/3 innings - would normally be joined by a loss. But Washington’s potent lineup bailed Olsen out and turned this game into a slugfest.

Last season, the Nationals were last in the National League in slugging, second-to-last in homers and third-to-last in runs scored. Those days seem like a distant memory because this group is crushing the ball.

“We have the capability to go out and put runs up every single night,” Willingham said.

Washington ranks in the top half of the league in all of those categories this season and added to its numbers Sunday with some titanic blasts. Dunn and Willingham each took Arizona starter Max Scherzer deep back-to-back in the third inning, and each added another later in the game.

Dunn did it again in the fifth, this time going the other way and looping a two-run homer into the left-field bullpen to give the Nationals a brief 4-3 lead. It was Dunn’s 11th home run of the season, which left him one short of St. Louis’ Albert Pujols for the NL lead.

Not that all those homers did much good.

“Our job is to go out and put up runs, and we’ve been doing a very good job of that,” Dunn said. “We always have guys on base, it seems like. You have days like this, but we’re definitely heading in the right direction as far as a pitching standpoint. … Today was just kind of one of those days.”

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