Frustration creeping in for Nats as offense musters one run in loss to O’s

Washington drops first game of Beltway Series in 11 innings

The manager likes to call the approach he preaches one of “patient aggressiveness.” A few Washington Nationals players refer to it as “selective aggressiveness.” Whatever the term, the idea is not to take hittable pitches just to take them and not to get overanxious and expand the strike zone, either.

Sometimes, like Friday night in the Nationals’ 2-1 loss to the Baltimore Orioles in 11 innings, the line between the two blurs. Hitters can be too patient, staring at a called third strike down the middle of the plate, and they can be too aggressive, trying to force things to happen.

The result is an approach that appears muddled and a game that ends, again, without enough offense. The result is a loss in which one early Orioles run, matched only by Ian Desmond’s solo home run in the sixth, all fell by the wayside with Nick Markakis’ laser home run off the facade of the second deck in right field to break the tie in the 11th inning.

When it was over, when Edwin Jackson was forced to come to grips with the reality that eight innings (with eight strikeouts) of one-run baseball would not be good enough to win the “Battle of the Beltways” opener, there were plenty of directions to place blame. There was a botched hit-and-run, two failed bunt attempts, Strike 3s looked at down the middle and an inability to capitalize any time runners reached base.

“A game like that’s frustrating,” said Nationals manager Davey Johnson. “Just trying too hard the way I figure it, and not letting them come to us. … Hitters get frustrated, wanting to make something happen. Not staying within themselves. It is what it is. We need to overcome.”

And then there were the strikeouts. Ten of them, to be exact, in the team’s major league-leading 14th 10-plus strikeout game of the season. In their last 20 innings, the Nationals have struck out 24 times.

“I’m sure there’s times where we all get overly aggressive or too patient and we’re letting pitches go,” said second baseman Danny Espinosa, who bunted a ball foul for Strike 3 in the seventh inning after Bryce Harper opened the frame with a single. “I think right now we’ve been doing a pretty decent job with that. … You’re just up there trying to get your job done.”

The ways they were ineffective, though, became irrelevant as soon as Adam LaRoche meekly grounded the ball back to Pedro Strop for the final out. Several players acknowledged the team’s situational hitting must improve, that they must stop squandering chances night in and night out (0-for-5 with runners in scoring position, six runners left on base) and they need to stop putting undue stress on a pitching staff that has performed better than any other in the major leagues.

But they also knew, it was simpler than all of that.

“We just have to figure out a way to score more runs,” said third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, part of an offense that has a lower run total than only San Diego and Pittsburgh.

“It’s different when you play teams like this,” Zimmerman added. “Because you haven’t seen their pitchers as much. It’s really hard to go up there and be really aggressive when you’ve only faced a guy two or three times in your career. I guess that’s no excuse.”

Johnson walked into his postgame media session lamenting the fact that his team wasted an effort from Jackson that was almost as good as the right-hander’s complete game effort (one run, nine strikeouts) earlier this season. He used words like “over-anxious” and “frustrating” on multiple occasions, saving his only praise for Jackson, who he called “outstanding.”

Johnson was asked if any of the patience and confidence he’s displayed so strongly this season was wearing thin with each frustrating offensive game. If the line between being patient and being aggressive wasn’t being walked as well as it should. He just slightly shrugged his shoulders.

“I know the talent,” he said. “We need to have patience when we get in those situations. I certainly see the ability there and whatever. They threw some good pitchers at us and made good pitches, but a lot of times we got ourselves out by being overly aggressive.”

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