- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Inside their quiet clubhouse, where frustration mixed with the occasional moment of levity, the Washington Nationals once again found themselves trying to find the answers to familiar questions.

Swept by the St. Louis Cardinals with a 4-2 loss that was their ninth in the last 12 games, thanks largely to an infuriatingly sputtering offense, they stood in front of the lights and the microphones and they answered.

No, they did not expect their team to struggle like this out of the gate. Yes, they fully expect the ship to right itself and a 10-11 start to the season to become a distant memory. Yes, they seemed to grudgingly conceded, they were pressing in an effort to do more than they needed — to cure all of their ills with one swing or one pitch.

“Things just aren’t going our way right now,” said right fielder Jayson Werth, who turned in one of the few bright spots Wednesday when his fourth home run of the season sailed into the visitors’ bullpen in the eighth.

“We pitch, we don’t hit; we hit, we don’t pitch. They always say you’re better lucky than good and we’re neither right now.”

Tuesday night, after their manager vowed he was nearing the end of his rope, a bunch of the Nationals’ players stayed late in the clubhouse. They talked. They hashed things out. They complained to one another. They brought up other World Series-winning teams that didn’t open the season on a tear — like Werth’s 2008 Philadelphia Phillies, who began 11-11.

A day later, following an afternoon in which they spent the better part of three hours either pounding the ball into the ground or missing it altogether, Davey Johnson pledged to make a few more changes.

“It’s frustrating,” Johnson said. “Guys are trying to do too much.”

After he watched 15 ground outs and seven strikeouts account for 22 of the Nationals’ outs Wednesday, Thursday’s lineup will look different, he said. Steve Lombardozzi will find himself near the top of it. Werth will be dropped into the middle. Some key starters will get a day off.

They don’t want to sit. They do so reluctantly. But most shrugged their shoulders at the idea of a shake-up. At the very least, they seemed to acknowledge, it couldn’t hurt.

“Hopefully there’ll be a benefit,” Werth said. “I think we need to jumble it up and we need to switch the mojo a little bit.

“Somebody was talking about [legendary NBA coach] Phil Jackson the other day. We need to call him up, have him come in here and burn some sage or something. We’re not very feng shui right now. But it’ll change.”

The Nationals fell behind early Wednesday, as Stephen Strasburg allowed three runs in the first and could never make up the difference. While Strasburg settled in, getting ahead of hitters and admittedly stopping himself from trying to make the “perfect pitch” but peppering the strike zone instead, the Nationals’ offense never could recover.

Ian Desmond made the final out of an inning with runners in scoring position twice. As a team, they struck out with runners on base five times. When they did connect, it was often struck well and hard — but right at a Cardinals fielder.

“We’re all frustrated,” said Strasburg, who suffered his fourth straight loss. “We all want to go out there and win every single game. It just seems like the ball’s not really dropping in our favor. It seems like we hit it right to where they’re at, every time. That’s not going to happen the entire year.”

“We’re just not doing the things we’re capable of doing,” Johnson said. “Desi looked like he was trying to hit the ball to the light tower. Little things where guys are trying to create something that’s not there yet. It’s just one of those things. Battle out of it.”

Looking beleaguered and downtrodden, Johnson tried to remain upbeat. The only way out is to stay positive, he said. With the Cincinnati Reds arriving Thursday and Washington’s schedule offering few spots of relief in the near future, Johnson pursed his lips and tried to verbalize his frustration, and his optimism.

“You try to change that momentum, make something happen, and it just doesn’t work,” he said. “But there’s always tomorrow.”

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