- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 25, 2011

If you wanted a list of all the players the Washington Nationals left on base Thursday night, you’d have been better off simply writing out the lineup. Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa and Jesus Flores all knew what it was like to be stranded.

Ryan Zimmerman, Brian Bixler and Jonny Gomes dealt with the deflating experience twice, Michael Morse three different times.

The Nationals didn’t suffer the ignominy of a 13th shutout, but their 8-1 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks to cap a 5-5 homestand wasn’t far off. As their offense continued its anemic downturn — particularly with runners on base and in scoring position — they dropped their third straight and limped out of town after what started as a promising homestand.

“We got some runners on,” said Gomes, “and then [Diamondbacks starter Wade Miley] would start pitching a little differently with runners in scoring position.

“We just have to do a better job of touching the plate.”

The fact that their bullpen melted down following John Lannan’s exit in the sixth to allow six runs on seven hits and two walks was merely secondary. Tyler Clippard allowed three runs in two-thirds of an inning in the eighth and Henry Rodriguez allowed three more on five hits in the ninth. However, even if the game had stayed close, the Nationals could hardly generate any offense to make it matter.

The Nationals had no trouble getting to Miley, the Diamondbacks‘ replacement for the injured Jason Marquis who had his season end in his third start with the Diamondbacks after suffering a broken leg. The Nationals had eight runners reach base in Mileys’ six innings of work — and four more against the relievers who followed. They even put the leadoff man on in five different innings and had two on with one out or less on four different occasions.

Only Desmond, who walked in the first and was hit by a pitch in the seventh, felt the relief of crossing home plate. Morse, who was 2-for-4, drove him him with a single.

But as hittable as Miley was, he’d often groove a fastball in the mid-90s and then drop in a changeup at below 80 mph. He mixed things up well enough and changed his approach when runners were on. He kept himself out of trouble all night.

“Everybody had a chance to drive in a run early, we just didn’t go out there and do it,” said Nationals manager Davey Johnson who watched his team leave 12 runners on base and go 1-for-16 with runners in scoring position. “I thought we were making a lot of progress offensively. Today wasn’t one of our better days.

“We just seem like we’re a little flat. We usually look like we want it. … I give the credit to the opposing pitcher, but I think a lot of it was we just didn’t go after it. I will have conversations with everyone on this ballclub offensively on this road trip. We’re better than we showed.”

Despite the lopsided score, only one errant pitch cost Lannan. He held the Diamondbacks scoreless through five innings, but an 89-mph fastball over the middle to Chris Young went for a two-run homer in the sixth. That was the game — and it’s a script the Nationals and their pitching staff know well. One mistake is one too many when there’s no run support.

Asked if that can put added pressure on a pitching staff to be perfect, Johnson didn’t hesitate: “Oh my goodness, it sure does.”

“I think it goes without saying our offense has been a little lax,” Clippard said. “We’ve been struggling a little bit offensively. I think the starters have been doing a great job but maybe they’re pressing a little bit. They feel like they can’t give up a run.”

The pressure seems to be working both ways for the Nationals right now. They will they try to get out of their recent three-game funk with a six-game road trip to Cinicinnati and Atlanta and escape the downward spiral of Septembers past.

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