LOS ANGELES — Tom Gorzelanny was something of a hot topic this week as the Nationals moved from Atlanta, to Houston and finally to Los Angeles. He and his sprained right ankle, that is. Whether Gorzelanny would make Saturday night’s start at Dodger Stadium was somewhat in question until midweek.
On the team’s off day Thursday, Gorzelanny convinced his manager that he was well. He wanted to make his start, despite the fact that the Nationals could have easily skipped him or, at the very least, pushed him back.
Standing on the mound Saturday night, looking up at the sky after falling behind 14 of the 19 batters he faced and all-but-erasing leads of three and four runs, respectively, Gorzelanny had no explanation. His ankle was fine. His pitching, in a 7-6 walk-off loss to the Dodgers, was not.
“Just awful pitching, plain and simple,” Gorzelanny said, perhaps unintentionally summing up more than just his own performance on the mound for the Nationals. “I was given a great opportunity to get us through the game and get us a win and I blew it.”
Gorzelanny was the main culprit on this night — a fact made ever-more clear by the 2⅔ innings of scoreless relief Ross Detwiler provided in his stead once Gorzelanny had scraped his way through three innings. But he wasn’t the only Nationals pitcher dabbling in ineffectiveness.
As Henry Rodriguez uncorked his 31st pitch of the night, his team clinging to a one-run lead with two outs in the seventh inning and the tying run standing on third base, he too lost his way.
Had he been catching with a lacrosse stick Wilson Ramos wouldn’t have been able to save the 94-mph 3-0 fastball from Rodriguez that skyrocketed over his catcher’s left shoulder so high that fans in the third row of seats ducked as a reflex while the ball rocketed toward the screen. Rafael Furcal walked, pinch runner Eugenio Velez scampered home and a game the Nationals had seemed so sure to win hours earlier — back when they were tagging Ted Lilly for six runs in three innings — was tied.
“It was pretty high, so I’d have to say it came out early,” said pitching coach Steve McCatty who admitted he was on the bullpen phone when the pitch happened. “But that’s part of the things that, at times, don’t look good. But the talent, the stuff he has … He’s got a great arm, he’s a young guy with velocity, (and) the tendency (is), you’ve got a big gun, you want to shoot it. It’s the maturing part.”
Two innings later, Ryan Mattheus became the unfortunate pitcher of record when Furcal stroked a one-out double to left center and ended a nightmare of a game for the Nationals pitching staff. Between the two teams, 23 hits were put on the board — 14 of them by the Dodgers — and the Nationals’ pitchers accounted for five walks and three wild pitches.
“Obviously something was bothering him because he was getting behind, not making good pitches, and he was getting hit pretty good,” said Nationals manager Davey Johnson, who pulled Gorzelanny after three. “(He) had a chance to get out of it. The pitcher came up and he got behind on the pitcher even. Just threw one right down the middle. We’re lucky he only gave up two (on the pitch).”
The game could have turned on so many occasions, but perhaps the breaking point came in the third inning when Gorzelanny, in spite of his inability to locate, was in position to escape the frame with at least a three-run lead still intact. Instead, he fell behind for the 13th time to Lilly. He started the left-hander off with a strike but threw him two straight balls before the pitcher turned around a 91-mph fastball for a two-run double.
“You can’t give up a hit to the pitcher when the inning is on the line,” Gorzelanny said. “I just did. There’s nothing I can say about it. … It just wasn’t a good day.”
For him or the Nationals, who dropped back to two games under .500 and have now officially lost 40 percent of their games this season by one run.
“We’re just kind of spinning our wheels a little bit right now,” said right fielder Jayson Werth, who was 1-for-3 with a two-run double. “We’re playing good baseball, but we’re on the wrong side of things right now. We’ve got a chance to win the series tomorrow, and we need to get that game for sure. We need to win that game tomorrow.”