- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 27, 2009

Adam Dunn was a major league player for eight years before he came to the Washington Nationals, and he never during that time consistently experienced the thrill of victory. Eight years as one of the sport’s most consistent and most productive hitters, yet not one of them spent on a winning team.

And then Dunn arrived in the District and began to experience losing on an entirely new level.

So even as the 29-year-old slugger enjoys the best statistical season of his career, he finds no joy in the days, weeks and months of losing he and his teammates have endured in 2009.

“It’s the most frustrated, I think, I’ve ever been in my life,” Dunn said Saturday in the wake of another beat-down, this time by an 11-5 margin to the Atlanta Braves.

A season of mounting frustration for the Nationals is inching toward the finish line, and it hasn’t been pretty. Saturday’s loss was Washington’s 20th in its past 26 games, its 102nd in 154 games this year. Not since 1976 has this franchise (formerly the Montreal Expos) found itself 50 games under .500.

This latest downswing has been particularly painful for fans to watch and players to experience, with young pitchers getting rocked, a once-potent lineup getting silenced and a porous defense continuing to make mistakes at inopportune moments.

Those in charge of the product, though, refuse to succumb.

“I’d be discouraged if our players were quitting, and I’m not seeing that,” interim manager Jim Riggleman said. “I’m not ever going to get discouraged… because I know how hard they’re trying.”

If the Nationals aren’t losing because of lack of effort, they are losing because of a lack of talent and experience. It hasn’t helped that several players are sidelined or slogging their way through injuries.

Cristian Guzman (shoulder) may not play shortstop again this year. Sean Burnett (thumb) may not pitch again this year. Jordan Zimmermann, Craig Stammen, Jesus Flores, Austin Kearns and Collin Balester have been shut down. Ryan Zimmerman and Wil Nieves weren’t in the lineup Saturday because of nagging injuries. Dunn and Josh Bard played but probably could have used a day off to rest.

“They’re aching over this,” Riggleman said. “I got guys playing hurt. Adam Dunn is out there every day for us. He’s got the same aches and pains as everybody else does. But you know what? He goes out there every day. Adam didn’t have a particularly good day today, but you know what? He doesn’t slough it off. He’s irritated by that. He’s mad. And that’s the way we want it. Guys care.”

On a dreary Saturday afternoon, the Nationals put all their woes out there for an umbrella-wielding crowd of 29,058 to see. They fell behind 4-0 before ever sending a batter to the plate. They committed three errors. There were stymied for seven innings by NL rookie of the year candidate Tommy Hanson. And despite battling back to make it close, they imploded late and turned this one into another laugher.

“If it could go wrong, it went wrong,” Riggleman said.

The low point, though, might have come during the top of the first, an inning in which starter Garrett Mock surrendered four runs on four hits, none of them struck especially hard.

Mock (3-10) could easily have pointed to the string of dribblers, broken bats and errors that put him in the hole, but the young right-hander admittedly didn’t do anything to get himself out of the jam. He walked the second batter of the day. And he made a foolish decision to let a comebacker go through, thinking his defense was positioned to turn a double play. It wasn’t, so the ball scooted into center field for a single.

That kept the inning alive and set up Pete Orr’s error five batters later to allow two more runs to score.

“I’m 100 percent responsible for this loss today,” Mock said. “I don’t care what the defense did.”

There are eight games remaining before the Nationals are free to disperse across North America, settle in for the winter and try to forget everything that has happened in the past six months. For some, it will be a welcome respite.

For others, such as Dunn, it will be impossible to relax. This is his livelihood, and it’s not that easy to put aside the most miserable season of his baseball career without replaying it in his mind over and over in numbing fashion.

“I know everybody keeps saying we’re not as bad as this or that,” Dunn said. “But we’re not winning. I don’t know what you can point your finger to. I don’t have an answer.”

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