PITTSBURGH | The biggest obstacle the Nationals faced on their six-game road trip through St. Louis and Pittsburgh wasn't the Cardinals' slugging lineup or igniting their disjointed offense or overcoming the defensive miscues that have been seemingly piling up.
No, the toughest opponent the Nationals faced this past week was the weather.
With two rainouts and a delay already in the books on the trip it was ironically fitting that the rain would foil the Nationals once more before they head home. This time it delayed their series finale with the Pirates for 21 minutes mid-batter in the fourth with Washington up by a run and it was a much different Nationals team that returned once the tarp was lifted on a muddy infield – one that lost 4-2, dropped their second straight series and fell to 2-4 on the trip.
"There's nothing you can do about [the weather]," said Nationals manager Jim Riggleman after his team's latest defeat moved them to 10-11 on the season. "It's Pennsylvania in April and you're going to get that. We've dealt with it before and we may not be past it. It's just a situation you've got to deal with. No excuses. We got off to a good start and kind of flattened out."
That's putting it lightly. The Nationals tempo after the rain delay was so different from before it that it was as if they played two different games.
John Lannan, making the 100th start of his young career, was staked to a two-run lead in the first inning and put up zeroes through three. The offense, following a season-high 15-hit output on Sunday, strung together three consecutive hits – a single by Ian Desmond, double by Jayson Werth and two-run single by Adam LaRoche – to get to Pirates starter Paul Maholm in the first and saw six of the first 14 batters reach base.
But Lannan was working in a one-run game with men on first and third and two outs in an 0-1 count to first baseman Steve Pearce when the umpires finally decided the torrential rain had reached its apex.
"When they called it, [the rain] wasn't that big of a factor," Lannan said. "I just threw a first-pitch strike to Pearce and, after that, I thought I was going to get [to face] him. I was kind of shocked he called it in that situation."
When Lannan returned, admittedly throwing his pitches more up in the zone, Pearce turned that 0-1 count into a walk and Brandon Wood ripped a two-run double to center field. Chris Snyder followed with an RBI-single to left and the Nationals' lead was washed away just that quickly.
Their offense apparently followed, allowing the Pirates pitchers to set down 12 straight and 15 of the Nationals' final 17 batters, 10 by strikeout.
When Werth and Wilson Ramos reached against former Nationals reliever Joel Hanrahan in the ninth, they were Washington's first baserunners since before the delay.
"It'd be nice to get some sunny days," said center fielder Jerry Hairston Jr. "We have a couple guys in here, if you look at the track records, that are slow starters. That's just how it is... A lot of guys don't have a lot of at-bats. It gets magnified when you only have 75-80 at-bats and some guys only have 30. A good week really can propel guys and we have guys that are close and hopefully we'll take off."
It was the third start of the five Lannan (2-2) has made this season that's been affected by rain. He waited out a lengthy delay in his first outing of the year to come back and qualify for the win, his start in St. Louis on Tuesday was postponed to the following day and then there was Monday's.
"April showers," Lannan said, shrugging his shoulders. "I can't wait for April to be over. Let's go to May."
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