- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 21, 2011

BALTIMORE — If the Washington Nationals offensive onslaught Friday night at Camden Yards was the perfect example of just how badly they were primed to break out, Saturday’s effort served once again to prove how fickle that production is.

While the fireworks, fanfare and record-breaking hit parade that produced 17 runs for the Nationals in the opener of the Beltway series were certainly welcomed and entertaining, an 8-3 loss Saturday afternoon to the Baltimore Orioles showed that what the Nationals really need from their offense is any semblance of consistency.

With a pitcher on the mound in John Lannan who could have certainly used the run support after laboring through a pivotal third inning, the Nationals continued a trend of ineffectuality following a potential breakout game. For the seventh time this season the Nationals took a loss after a game in which they scored at least six runs.

Gone were the loud swings, the soaring home runs and the dizzying trips around the bases — replaced with a return to a confounding failure with runners in scoring position (0-for-4) and more tipping of the cap to a pitcher (Jeremy Guthrie) with six losses and just one victory to his name heading into the game.

“It’s part of baseball,” said designated hitter Matt Stairs who was 0-for-7 in the series before a ninth-inning double. “You go out and you swing the bat extremely well the night before and you run into Guthrie who’s an outstanding pitcher. He’s a gamer and he’s a max-effort guy and he threw extremely well.”

Never better than he did in the sixth inning when the Nationals mounted their best scoring opportunity after losing an early two-run lead. With two on and just one out, in a 4-2 game, Guthrie unleashed a changeup to Stairs on the first pitch — one that he promptly rolled over for a 4-6-3 double play to end the scoring threat. A four-run seventh by Baltimore — courtesy of back-to-back hits to open the frame off Lannan and four straight singles off Cole Kimball — would seal the Nationals 24th loss of the season.

Guthrie pulled one out of there,” said Nationals manager Jim Riggleman. “He hadn’t really been throwing them very much and he just threw a heck of a pitch right there … It was a great pitch in a big situation.”

It didn’t help that Lannan was two different pitchers. There was the guy who threw an effective first two innings, needing just 15 pitches to get six outs and setting down the most fearsome part of the Orioles order without incident.

Then there was the pitcher who took the mound in the third and labored through 40 pitches. In this inning, he let the Orioles bat around and it began by falling behind and eventually walking Mark Reynolds, who was batting just .190 entering the game. He also allowed the next batter, No. 8 hitter Nolan Reimold to burn him for a home run to left field on a 3-2 count.

“I have to find consistency,” Lannan said after his fifth loss of the season. “I’ve got to stay in my spot and keep them off balance. I didn’t do that in the third and it hurt me.”

Still, despite allowing the Orioles‘ 7-8-9 hitters to go 4-for-11 with two doubles, a homer, three runs scored and two RBI against him, the left-hander had his team in a two-run game heading into the seventh inning. His offense couldn’t capitalize before the game was out of reach.

Guthrie limited the Nationals to just five hits. The two runs he gave up were unearned — scoring via an error on first baseman Brandon Snyder in the third inning. Once those runs were home, though, Guthrie set down the next eight Nationals in a row. The opportunity in the sixth averted and a six-run cushion down the stretch was all the Orioles much-maligned bullpen would need.

“It’s just great pitching,” Hairston said. “[Guthrie] was on today. It doesn’t really matter what we did last night, whether we got no-hit or we scored 17 runs. It’s all about the next day’s starting pitcher.”