- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 5, 2011

PHILADELPHIA | The frustration that comes with offensive futility began to bubble out of the Washington Nationals in their 7-4 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday night when cleanup hitter Adam LaRoche – usually mild-mannered and  even-tempered – gave home plate umpire Alfonso Marquez a piece of his mind in the fourth inning.

LaRoche had just looked at his second called third strike of the night, extending an 0-for-19 skid that had dropped his average to .177, and made his feelings about Vance Worley’s 93 mph fastball on the low, inside corner known on his way back to the dugout.

In an attempt to defend his first baseman, Nationals manager Jim Riggleman was then ejected from the game.

One night after Cole Hamels tossed a complete game five-hitter, the Nationals made Worley, a rookie called up in place of injured Joe Blanton, look just as good.

In losing their sixth straight at Citizens Bank Park, a veritable house of horrors for the Nationals who are 9-29 in Philadelphia since 2007, the Nationals proved again that pitching and defense can only take them so far. Eventually, they’re going to have to hit.

“We will come out of it,” Riggleman said of the funk that has mired the team for much of the season’s first five weeks. “But in the meantime, you’ve got to try and win the game. You can’t just wait until you start hitting to win the game – and we’ve done a good job of that. (But) at some point, you’re going to lose ballgames if you don’t hit.”

Perhaps the first signs of a breakthrough came after the sixth inning. LaRoche broke that hitless streak that had lasted over five games with an RBI double to get the Nationals on the board in what was then a two-run game.

Matt Stairs collected his first hit of the season – and 100th pinch-hit of his career – with a single in the ninth, and Danny Espinosa’s three-run shot to right, his third home run of the season, accounted for the final score.

But the pitching that has carried the Nationals for the past few weeks – and almost single-handedly for five of the past seven games – finally stumbled. Jason Marquis, who spun a shutout against San Francisco in his last start, gave up seven runs off seven hits between the fifth and sixth innings, allowing 10 of the last 12 batters he faced to reach base.A leadoff homer by Raul Ibanez in the fifth started the surge.

Suddenly, a 3-1 lead had ballooned to 7-1.

“We’ve won some games with our defense and our pitching, but that only goes so far,” LaRoche said. “Sooner or later, we’ve got to start swinging the bat and we haven’t been doing it.”

Said Espinosa: “I’m sure some guys, (including) myself, I was pressing. I want to get on base…. We know if we get on base we’re giving ourselves an opportunity to drive runs in, and that’s how you win ballgames.”

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