PHILADELPHIA — The sight was one no member of the Washington Nationals wanted to witness. After so many injuries had been put behind them, after they’d cobbled things together and persevered – even thrived – without so many of their key components, their lineup was finally all healthy.
And then, less than an hour after shortstop Ian Desmond was scratched with a mild right hamstring strain, Michael Morse knelt on the grass to the left of the batters box unable to control the tremor in his right hand.
Morse, who was hit in the hand with an 84-mph change-up from Kyle Kendrick, left the field almost immediately. And four batters in Friday night, the Nationals were, at least figuratively, already operating at a deficit. In their 4-2 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies, it was one they’d never fully recover from.
“It changes the game a little bit,” said Nationals manager Davey Johnson.
Johnson was relieved that X-rays on Morse’s hand came back negative and he’d likely only miss a few days. But he did so knowing the Nationals will likely be without their slugging outfielder or their shortstop, whose issue likely originated when he hyperextended his knee Wednesday night, for the rest of this series.
Neither injury appears extremely serious with Morse happy to know he was only dealing with a bad bruise and a good deal of swelling on the outside edge of his right hand and Desmond stressing that his absence is mostly precautionary.
So while the Nationals lost Friday night — an uninspired effort in which the only noise they truly made came off the bat of rookie Tyler Moore, who smoked a pinch-hit home run into the left field seats in the seventh inning to bring the Nationals within a run — the potential injuries to their two stars outweighed the game’s actual result.
Desmond and Morse have combined to drive in over 100 of the Nationals’ runs this season and their absences were more than evident Friday night. Roger Bernadina slid into the cleanup slot for Morse and the rest of the lineup was juggled when Desmond was removed. The lineup that remained left seven men on base and was 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position.
“It was definitely a blow for us,” said Moore, who figures to see increased playing time with Morse out for a few days. “But it’s kind of what we’ve been dealing with all year. Guys stepping up in different situations. Just another day. We’re hoping Mikey’s hand is fine Desi’s fine. We’ll see tomorrow.”
Even without Morse and Desmond, though, the Nationals were never wholly out of the game. Their figurative uphill battle became an actual one, however, when Edwin Jackson gave up an early run in the bottom of the first inning.
Jackson, who battled his way through six innings on 106 pitches, flirted with danger for most of the night but didn’t force his team to deal with anything more than a 1-0 deficit until the fourth when a leadoff single and a walk setup Jimmy Rollins for a two-run double. That would prove to be the difference.
“I’m not looking for any extra credit for battling,” Jackson said. “As a pitcher, that’s our job – to go out and try to keep the game close. Especially when you have the day you don’t necessarily have your best stuff, you just have to go at it and say, here it is.”
The Nationals threatened in the ninth when Danny Espinosa, playing shortstop in Desmond’s stead, roped a leadoff single to right field. But with Kurt Suzuki at the plate, Espinosa was thrown out stealing and the Nationals never regained their traction against Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon. The decision to run was not one Johnson was pleased with saying only that Espinosa was given the green light to stay out of the double play but “I don’t like the decision.”
So they trudged off the field with their first back-to-back losses since July 31 and Aug. 1 – also to the Phillies – and ended their streak of 20 straight wins in games in which they’d hit at least one home run.
“We had the right guys up at the right time,” Johnson said. “Just didn’t get it done. Tomorrow’s another day.”