- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 28, 2011

About a month ago, on a picturesque Southern California day, Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson sat in the dugout and outlined his feelings on mistakes. Physical ones were OK. Mental ones were not. The focus could not waver.

There have been plenty of facets of the Nationals’ game for their manager to find frustration with since, including an offense that’s hitting .234. But mostly, the mistakes that had been committed were the excusable kind.

On Thursday afternoon at Nationals Park, with his team desperate for a victory, the Nationals made some of both in a 5-2 loss to the Marlins, Washington’s fifth straight loss.

His pitchers walked five batters and put the leadoff man on seven times in nine innings, and the offense again failed to make a significant impact.

“The last few nights, for sure, seems like, fundamentally, we haven’t been that sound,” said right fielder Jayson Werth, one of the bright spots with two RBI singles. “That’s just focus and playing the game the right way.

“Realistically, we’ve still got to play better baseball. Still got to hit, drive in runs. We haven’t done that all year. But the last couple nights we’ve lost focus a little bit, and we just need to get back on track.”

That lack of focus, perhaps, could be traced to the trade chatter that permeates clubhouses this time of year. Each day a new National seemingly is brought up in that conversation — a first-time experience for many of them, including closer Drew Storen and shortstop Ian Desmond.

But it was unclear if mental focus or physical issues caused Nationals starter John Lannan to walk four for the second straight start and allow four earned runs for the first time in 12 outings. In 5 2/3 innings, Lannan threw 115 pitches, the most he’d thrown all season. Three of his walks led off an inning.

“It’s unacceptable,” Lannan said, noting he had trouble locating the sinker specifically. “That’s pretty much it.”

“Four walks for the third straight game? It’s just disappointing. I’m better than that. … I think I just need to get out of my own head. Just go out there and just throw it. I don’t know what’s going on, but I’ve just got to go back to the basics, go out for my bullpen, throw my sinker and get it back.”

Including Lannan’s effort Thursday, Nationals starters have a 9.28 ERA their last turn through the rotation and have allowed 22 earned runs while averaging just 4 1/3 innings.

The worst of it Thursday came in the fourth inning. Lannan failed to look back a runner at third base when fielding a sacrifice bunt and allowed the go-ahead run to score. Lannan said later he heard two different teammates yelling “One,” signifying first base. So he did it, following the advice, but giving up the tally.

The bottom half’s mistake came on the base paths: a third out made at third base on an attempted double steal by Ian Desmond and Jerry Hairston Jr. It was the result of sign confusion between Johnson and third base coach Bo Porter, Johnson said, taking “full responsibility.”

The blame for their first five-game losing streak since May and second of the season, though, could be spread around.

“I know everyone’s tired of hearing that we’re going to turn it around, but the last few games we’ve shown some good signs,” Desmond said. “We’ve played with a lot more energy. …There’s definitely a lot of good signs, but it just didn’t work today.

“The feeling in here today isn’t like it was when we played Houston or in Atlanta. We got beat. Today, we played a little better. We still got beat, but there was positives to take away. … I’m sorry to the people out there that are tired of hearing it but it’s true. Something good is about to come.”

• Amanda Comak can be reached at acomak@washingtontimes.com.

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