Blowout by Bucs further dims Nationals’ optimism

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It’s been a week since Davey Johnson came to the Washington Nationals’ rescue and became their manager. Sure, it’s unheard of for a team with 13 wins in its previous 15 games to need rescuing, but the 68-year-old inherited baseball’s hottest team and seemed to turn Jim Riggleman’s shock resignation into a positive.

With Johnson’s sparkling resume, even the most cynical fans could wonder whether this club finally has the components to be a contender.

The last seven days, however, have been anything but a honeymoon. And the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday afternoon extinguished whatever magic remained from Johnson’s hire, bludgeoning Washington 10-2 at Nationals Park.

Washington dropped back under .500, and Johnson lost for the fifth time in seven games at the helm.

“I don’t like to get beat,” he said. “It wasn’t any fun today.”

Johnson’s players agreed. The pep from their surge earlier this month is now a memory. They dressed and filed out of the clubhouse in silence after Sunday’s beat down.

The Nationals’ offense resumed its struggles with runners in scoring position, going 0-for-9 Sunday, and injuries continue to mount. Reality has returned.

The downward swing doesn’t have anything to do with Johnson, though, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman insisted. It’s just the normal flow of a season.

“Baseball is a sport of averages,” he said. “You’re going to go through times when you’re unstoppable, and you’re going to go through times when things happen. The big thing is we’re still right where we need to be.

“You could be the manager and we’d be the same record. Davey doesn’t get hits and Davey doesn’t make plays. To say it’s on him is ridiculous.”

Johnson also wasn’t the one with the lifeless sinker against Pittsburgh. That belonged to starter Jason Marquis, who surrendered seven runs in 1 1/3 innings en route to his first loss in seven starts.

“I didn’t have that good late movement,” Marquis said, “and obviously it cost us the game.”

The 23,522 fans who braved the 100-degree heat index hoping to see the latest Nats thriller were disappointed. Pittsburgh wasted no time sapping the suspense from this one.

Alex Presley began the game with a single to left. Chase d’Arnaud then hit a high bouncer back to the mound. Marquis threw to second, but the ball squirted into center field after second baseman Danny Espinosa prematurely moved his hands to pivot the double play.

The throw was a bit low, too, and Marquis was credited with the error. So instead of one out and a runner on first, it was first and third and no outs.

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