NEW YORK — The Washington Nationals have said all the right things. They’ve pledged that they’re close to clicking, close to breaking out, close to being the type of offensive team that they can truly be when everyone gets hot at the same time.
Forty-two games into the season and they’re still waiting.
Wednesday night, after a 3-0 rain-soaked loss to the New York Mets — the sixth time they’ve been shutout this season and the second-most in the major leagues behind the San Diego Padres’ eight — they were no closer to that outburst. A quarter of the way into the season, and the Nationals are approaching the time when the struggles stop being part of early-season kinks and start becoming concerns.
“There’s no excuses,” said Nationals manager Jim Riggleman. “We continue to play good baseball. We’re playing defense, we’re pitching, but we just haven’t got on track. I don’t really have an explanation for it.”
They could have blamed the weather Wednesday; a deluge that plagued them on and off throughout the game left puddles in the infield. The mound and batters box required groundskeepers’ attention between each half-inning. The infielders played in standing water from the middle of the game on.
The Nationals went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position — their team average in that situation dipping to .230 — and they left 10 on.
Mets left-hander Jonathan Niese, who entered the game with an ERA above 5.00 but looked masterful for seven innings, at one point set down 12 straight and allowed just two runners to reach third base.
The Nationals carry a major league-worst .225 average, and their .298 on-base percentage would be the worst if not for the Minnesota Twins.
“I think everybody’s been doing everything they can to get it going from Day 1 and to continue to do it,” Riggleman said. “Certainly, we feel like we’re going to get it going and all that, but each game is significant.”
Perhaps no one personifies the Nationals’ batting woes more than first baseman Adam LaRoche, who stranded three runners. He came up in the first and eighth innings with a runner on third and made the final out each time.
LaRoche, a career .271 hitter who averages 26 home runs, went 0-for-4 to drop his batting average to .177. It’s the lowest it’s been since a 3-for-19 slide over the first six games.
“I feel like I’m close one day and then not the next,” he said. “It’s getting pretty frustrating trying to find it. When you lose, particularly games like tonight when we just didn’t score runs, is when it eats at you.”
Tom Gorzelanny held the Mets to a first-inning run despite putting 13 runners on over the first five innings, and Washington certainly had opportunities to take its starter off the hook. But Justin Turner hammered a hanging slider for a two-run double in the sixth for a 3-0 lead.
As the Nationals (20-22) collected themselves and prepared for a day game Thursday, all they could do was offer a common refrain.
“We have a lot of good hitters on this team, so it’s going to come,” said second baseman Danny Espinosa. “I don’t think anyone’s worried that four or five guys all of a sudden are going to have off years. It’s not going to happen. Baseball stays consistent to what you do, and guys are going to have great years like they always do.”