- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 28, 2011

For all of the offensive ineffectuality — all of the runners left stranded or erased on double plays — the Washington Nationals looked up Saturday afternoon in the eighth inning and found themselves within one run of the San Diego Padres.

And when Jerry Hairston Jr. hit a leadoff double to center field, the Nationals felt pretty good about their opportunity to make a second consecutive dent in their losing record in one-run games this season.

“My thought was basically we were going to tie it with [pinch hitter] Matt [Stairs] or win it with Matt and if we don’t we’ve got [Rick Ankiel] up there,” said Nationals manager Jim Riggleman. “I could have bunted him over but I felt very confident that we’d get that runner over to third.”

Three batters, a pop out and two strikeouts later, the Nationals had played out an all-too-familiar script.

One day after they used late-game heroics to top the Padres 2-1, the Nationals‘ anemic offense reared its ugly head once more and they were victims by the same score. Instead they fell to 5-10 this season in one-run games.

“It’s frustrating not to come through,” said left fielder Laynce Nix who, ironically was one of the only Nationals who did, hitting a solo home run in the seventh and reaching base three of his four times to the plate

“If we just come through in one or two of those chances we had, we’d make it close. We’re not winning the one-run games right now and that could change. If we win half the games that are one-run games I think we’re around .500.”

It was a scene that’s repeated itself countless times already this season. Their starting pitcher, Jordan Zimmermann, pitched well enough to win. He didn’t. They loaded the bases on Padres‘ right-hander Tim Stauffer in the first inning with one out via three straight walks and looked poised to break the game open early. They didn’t. They failed to even move Hairston to third in the eighth despite him standing on second with no outs.

“Not to disrespect [Stauffer] or any of those guys over there, I feel like we probably should have scored some runs today,” right fielder Jayson Werth said. “Don’t need to look very far. I definitely haven’t been getting the job done myself.”

For the second straight night the Nationals were only able to plate a run when it came via a solo homer. And one ball that lipped off the glove of Werth in the fourth inning wound up deciding it all.

The ball, a fastball that Zimmermann left a little up to center fielder Blake Tekotte in just the second major league at-bat of his career, sailed into right field. Werth turned to his right, stutter-stepped, then went to his left and extended his glove only to see it tip the edge and fall for a triple. Werth bounced off the wall and and Chase Headley came in to score the Padres first run. A single to left field by Kyle Phillips one batter later and the Padres had all the offense they’d need.

“It’s one of those, if make it it’s a really good play but it’s probably overlooked as a really good play [because] it appears routine,” Werth said. “Balls were sailing pretty good out there today. I had a chance at it. I turned on it, I just didn’t pick it up and I kind of stutter stepped after it and I was a half a step behind it.”

“I thought I had a little top spin on it,” Zimmermann said of the pitch to Tekotte. “I thought it was going to be just sort of a routine fly ball and it ended up carrying a little farther. It’s baseball. It kind of went over his head and got a triple and then the little bloop hit crushed me a little bit.”

But as much as Zimmermann (2-6) erred in the fourth by allowing the two two-out runs, the Nationals did nothing to support him for the second straight start. He took his fourth consecutive loss or no-decision in a one-run game, despite allowing just those two runs on five hits in six innings. The Nationals have scored just 3.13 runs per nine innings when Zimmermann’s been on the mound this season. In games he’s pitched, they’ve averaged just three runs.

“I just try to go out there as long as possible and give the team a chance to win,” Zimmermann said after his fourth consecutive quality start. “I felt I did that today. The bats just weren’t there but you’ve got to move on and be ready to pitch in another five days.”

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