- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 3, 2009

SAN DIEGO | There has been silence in the Washington Nationals’ clubhouse plenty of times this season - it is a natural byproduct of 88 losses in 134 games - but the hush in the visiting clubhouse after a 7-0 loss to the San Diego Padres on Wednesday afternoon was different.

The gaps in the clubhouse soundtrack weren’t a sense of aggravation, embarrassment or even disappointment. The silence was due to fatigue.

The Nationals lost for the seventh time on a nine-game road trip that spanned three cities and took them three time zones away from home. They’ve had one day off in the past three weeks and two since the All-Star break. They’re missing their top two hitters - a deficit that’s becoming more glaring each day.

This is a depleted, deficient baseball team that needs a break, and that was as apparent as anything else Wednesday.

Washington fielded a lineup stocked with reserves that could barely make Padres starter Kevin Correia flinch in 7 2/3 shutout innings. Nationals starter John Lannan took a shutout two outs into the fifth, then fell off against an eager Padres lineup. And player after player looked longingly toward a day off Thursday.

“I think you go through bad stretches, enjoy the day off and come back ready to work,” third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “We’ve got a good September schedule, so hopefully we can use that to our advantage, be rested and finish strong.”

For four innings, Lannan was the pitcher who has spoiled the Nationals with his ability to stop a losing streak by shutting an opponent down, regardless of what help he got from his offense. He shut out the Padres for four innings, striking out three and getting nine ground-ball outs.

Lannan pitched out of a bases-loaded jam with a double play in the second and escaped a first-and-third situation in the fourth. But with two outs in the fifth, things fell apart.

First, he gave up back-to-back singles to Everth Cabrera and David Eckstein, the top-of-the-order duo that pestered Washington throughout the series. Then Adrian Gonzalez smoked a tailing liner just inches away from Willie Harris’ glove in left field; two runs scored as Harris relayed the ball to the infield.

“You look for effort; we got a great effort,” interim manager Jim Riggleman said. “Willie did everything he could to get to it.”

Lannan walked Kevin Kouzmanoff intentionally, then gave up a double to Chase Headley and a broken-bat single to Will Venable. In the span of mere minutes, the Padres were up 5-0.

“They made things happen in the fifth,” Lannan said. “I battled today. I felt pretty good. That’s just the way it went today. It’s the way the whole freaking road trip went.”

Had Lannan been flawless, the outcome probably only would have been a narrower loss. Correia was that tough, mixing four pitches and retiring 19 straight at one point.

Washington didn’t challenge him much, starting typical reserves Harris, Justin Maxwell, Pete Orr and Jorge Padilla. The Nationals have scored three runs in their past four games.

“We haven’t been scoring runs, period, no matter what the lineup’s been,” Riggleman said. “We’ve just got to do better than that. It’s not acceptable to go into [San Diego and St. Louis] and not be able to scratch out a win.”

Riggleman has been through only one other stretch like this in his 1 1/2 months running the Nationals - the five-game losing streak that began his tenure as interim manager. After a loss to the Padres a few days later, Riggleman lit into his team - and the Nationals won 12 of 16. He hinted Wednesday a similar approach might be needed to pull Washington out of this funk.

“I think our guys said, ‘Enough’s enough,’ and I think we’ve got to do that now,” Riggleman said. “At some point you’ve got to say, ‘We’re not going to get beat.’ You’ve just got to will yourself to a win and not accept it. I know sometimes we think of down the road and ‘We’ve got a lot of good pieces for the future’ and all that. But when you’re playing tonight, people come to watch that ballgame, your competitive juices have got to be flowing. You’ve got to win tonight.”

Inspirational words might work Friday, but Wednesday the Nationals looked like a team that first was in need of rest.

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