MILWAUKEE — For weeks, they looked forward to the day they could add a power bat to their lineup, believing one key newcomer would make all the difference on a club that has consistently struggled to score.
So when Preston Wilson arrived yesterday and homered in his first at-bat, the Washington Nationals had to think it was the start of better things to come.
There’s only so much difference one player can make, though, especially when the rest of a ballclub fails to hold up its end of the bargain as the Nationals did yesterday in a 4-2 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers.
Wilson’s second-inning solo homer couldn’t make up for an otherwise pitiful day by Washington’s slumping offense, which produced a mere four hits off three Milwaukee pitchers. That lack of punch, combined with another late-inning bullpen collapse, handed the Nationals their sixth loss in eight games.
During that stretch, Washington has scored a total of 24 runs (an average of three runs a game), and that includes an eight-run outburst Friday in Philadelphia.
“It’s been going on for about a week or so now,” manager Frank Robinson said. “We’re just not doing anything offensively. Our bats have been missing in action, to tell you the truth.”
Robinson hoped the three-day All-Star break would help rectify that problem and inject some life into a club that admittedly limped through the final days of the first half.
He hoped the insertion of Wilson into the No.5 spot of his lineup would work wonders. And for a brief moment, his best wishes came true. Wilson, acquired late Wednesday from Colorado for pitcher Zach Day and outfielder J.J. Davis, launched a 383-foot homer off Brewers starter Doug Davis in his first plate appearance as a National.
“You’re just thinking, ‘Have a good at-bat,’” Wilson said of his mindset as he stepped to the plate. “Home runs are a product of that.”
It had been a whirlwind day for Wilson, who had a 4a.m. wake-up call at his home in Miami to make a 6:30a.m. flight to Milwaukee. He arrived at Miller Park at 11:15a.m., less than two hours before gametime, and immediately joined his new club for batting practice.
Shortly thereafter, he was rounding the bases after hitting his 16th homer of the season.
“I’m ready to take a nap,” said Wilson, who wound up finishing 1-for-4 with a strikeout, just as general manager Jim Bowden predicted would often be the case.
Wilson, who turns 31 on Tuesday, could provide a stabilizing force in the middle of the Nationals’ lineup and in center field, where he’s expected to play the rest of the season.
“There’s a lot he can bring to this team,” right fielder Jose Guillen said. “We need that bat in the lineup. He showed today what he’s capable of doing.”
But, Guillen and the rest of Washington’s lineup did little to supplement Wilson’s homer. They pushed across one more run in the third when Brad Wilkerson scored from third on Jose Vidro’s groundout and added two more singles in the fourth but were shut out the rest of the way by Davis and relievers Matt Wise (3-2) and Derrick Turnbow (18th save).
“This is a very good ballclub now with Preston Wilson,” Vidro said. “We’ve just got to do a better job of making adjustments up there.”
The lack of offense came at the expense of Nationals starter John Patterson, who allowed just two runs and struck out a career-high nine batters in six innings but was handed his 11th no-decision of the season.
Signs of Patterson’s frustration — he has just three wins despite a 2.92 ERA — are beginning to show, though both the right-hander and his manager pointed out he could help his cause by cutting down on high pitch-counts. Patterson yesterday needed 115 pitches to make it through six innings.
“The only thing to give myself a better chance is to cut down on all the three-ball counts I’ve had,” he said. “That’s eating up some of my pitches. And with the tendency where we don’t score until the end of the game, then that gets me into the seventh or eighth inning and I’ll have a little better chance to get a win.”
Patterson carried a 2-1 lead into the sixth inning yesterday but served up a game-tying homer to Geoff Jenkins. Two innings later, reliever Gary Majewski surrendered a two-run double to Damian Miller, the game-winning hit.
Washington’s bullpen has accounted for the club’s last four losses, perhaps a sign of fatigue.
“When you’re tired, you can’t throw the ball the way they’re throwing it,” Robinson said. “Mentally, maybe they’re tired. But the arm strength is there.”