- The Washington Times - Friday, June 13, 2008

PITTSBURGH | When the Washington Nationals get a good pitching performance, they can’t hit. On the few days when they score runs, they can’t pitch. And on those rare occasions when they’re successful in both areas, they collapse defensively or on the basepaths or in some other facet of the game that denies them victory.

In other words, they have all the hallmarks of a losing team. With a 7-5 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Thursday afternoon, they dropped their 10th game in 12 tries, fell to a season-low 16 games under .500 and headed to Seattle only one game better than the Mariners, who have the worst record in the major leagues.

“It’s frustrating,” right-hander Jason Bergmann said. “We had a good pitching performance yesterday from [John] Lannan, and we can’t score runs. And today we got a subpar pitching performance and we scored some runs. If we’re going to [stink], just [stink] all at once and be good all at once. That way, we’d at least be .500.”

The Nationals (26-42) are nowhere close to the .500 mark, and Bergmann didn’t help them move in that direction with another shaky outing: six runs (four earned) and eight hits in only 4 2/3 innings.

Just as he did in his last start, Bergmann (1-4) dug his team into a sizable early hole that proved too large to overcome. He surrendered four runs in the game’s first two innings, getting torched for a two-run homer by Ryan Doumit, then walking opposing pitcher Tom Gorzelanny with the bases loaded.

Thus continued Bergmann’s inconsistent season. He allowed 16 runs in his first three appearances, bounced back to hold the opposition scoreless over his next three starts and now has been torched for 13 earned runs in his last three outings.

“When things are good, they’re great. When things are bad, they [stink],” he said. “That’s part of learning pitching at the big league level. … Just getting out there and not giving the team quality starts is what bothers me the most because I know I can do it.”

So do the Nationals, who were encouraged by Bergmann’s superb May but are baffled by his wretched June.

“I don’t think anybody can think he’ll be as good as he was for those four games and how we’ve seen him before,” manager Manny Acta said. “Very few guys can dominate the way he has. We just want to find that happy medium type of guy, where we know that the day he’s not going to dominate, at least he’s not going to blow up in our faces.”

Gorzelanny (5-5) nearly blew up in the Pirates’ faces early in this one; he needed 34 pitches just to make it through five batters in the first. But the left-hander wriggled his way through 5 2/3 solid innings allowing only three runs.

The Nationals’ primary problem? An inability to come through in clutch situations. They were 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position until Cristian Guzman and Elijah Dukes connected for back-to-back RBI singles off reliever Sean Burnett in the sixth.

“We really kind of let him off the hook today,” center fielder Lastings Milledge said of Gorzelanny. “I thought we should have swung the bats a little better than we did.”

By the time the Nationals’ bats came to life, they already were facing a big deficit. Still, they managed to draw within a run on Guzman’s eighth-inning single.

Trailing 6-5 with the tying run in scoring position, Acta played every card he had. He used every man on his bench, including sending in Willie Harris to pinch-run for Dmitri Young with two outs and a 1-2 count on Milledge. The manager’s thinking: Wait as long as he could before burning his last position player, but once there were two strikes on the batter, give his team its best chance to score the tying run.

It didn’t matter. Milledge struck out on Tyler Yates’ next pitch, and Washington went down meekly in the ninth.

“You know it’s the last game of the series,” Acta said. “We’ve got to do everything possible to try to win in nine innings, and that’s what we did. We’ve got to shoot all the bullets.”

These days, the Nationals seem like they’re firing nothing but blanks.

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