SAN FRANCISCO — There isn’t much this season that has gone Sean Burnett’s way.
The Washington Nationals left-hander has had his struggles, like any reliever, but he’s also been snakebitten: ground balls that find holes, good pitches that batters manage to hit, close pitches that aren’t called his way.
Looking to buck the trend, Burnett took the mound Wednesday afternoon in high socks and baggy pants — a diversion from his usual long-pants look. It didn’t work.
When he was finished, a 1-1 tie had turned into a 3-1 loss to the San Francisco Giants.
“I’m just not executing when I need to,” Burnett said. “When I need to make a pitch, it’s just not there. It stinks. I’m giving away games.
“My team’s playing their butts off against good pitchers, they’re battling, and I come in the game and just give it away. I feel like I have to apologize to my teammates every outing because i’m just costing ballgames every time I get out there.”
Burnett has allowed an earned or inherited runner to score in five of his past seven outings — a stretch where he’s let 63 percent of inherited runners to come home, given up four earned runs and pitched just five total innings.
Wednesday, it was a lefty matchup that did him in, hanging a breaking ball to Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford with one on and two out in the seventh inning.
Crawford did what so many batters have done when Burnett hasn’t executed a pitch this season: he crushed it. Moments later, he was standing on third base and Cody Ross had scored what proved to be the winning run. For insurance, starting pitcher Matt Cain laced a double to right field one batter later to plate Crawford.
“By everybody’s account, he’s throwing the ball very well and just nothing has gone right for him,” said Nationals manager Jim Riggleman. “Today, he hung a breaking ball, of course, but he’s the guy I wanted out there. Two outs, Crawford up, left-on-left and he hung him a breaking ball.”
Nationals starter Yunesky Maya was aggressive, his tempo was quick and he needed just 67 pitches to get through six innings - and only 46 to get through five scoreless. But with an anemic offense and a bullpen that has allowed nine earned runs in the past four games, he left AT&T Park still searching for his first major league victory.
“Certainly we’d like to score some runs,” Riggleman said. “That’s the thing with Maya, every time he’s been out there it’s been 2-1, 1-0, 1-1, there’s not much room to let him work, and if there’s more room to let him work, you’re going to let him keep pitching. It’s tough for the bullpen to come in without a little margin for error but [Monday] night we were winning 4-1, and it got away from us.”
Notes: Nationals rookie second baseman Danny Espinosa was ruled to have struck out swinging to end the game on a pitch that hit him square on the left hand. Espinosa was in obvious pain and had a wrap on the hand in the clubhouse after the game but declined comment to reporters. X-rays had not been taken immediately.