- The Washington Times - Friday, April 18, 2014

Ian Desmond slumped on the stool in front of his locker and stared straight ahead. Eventually, after a pack of reporters had departed, teammate Jayson Werth sat next to him and the two teammates chatted for a minute or two, commiserating over a supremely awful defensive performance.

In an 8-0 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday night, the Nationals committed four errors. Desmond had two. Werth lost a ball in the lights at Nationals Park.

“We handed that game to [St. Louis] on a tee,” Desmond said.

The Cardinals didn’t need the help. Ace Adam Wainwright baffled Washington’s hitters in a complete-game shutout. He allowed just two hits and struck out eight. At one point, Wainwright retired 18 consecutive in a row.

Bats go cold against top pitchers in April. That the Nats can handle. But their ghastly defensive play is a concern now. They have committed an MLB-worst 20 errors in just 16 games. And while Desmond will take the brunt of the blame for Thursday’s poor start – he booted a ball on the first batter of the game during a three-run first inning and had a throwing error in the fourth inning – there was left plenty to go around.

“Some of it gets magnified, you kick a couple of balls. Maybe we’re pressing a little,” first baseman Adam LaRoche said. “It’s the same way at the plate. Like tonight, nothing going on, guys trying a little too hard to expand the zone and you end up looking worse. It could be the same way defensively. We have a really good defensive club, is the thing. It’s not showing right now, but I have a feeling that by the end of the year those numbers are going to be our specialty. We are just too good defensively to make the kind of errors we are.”

The last time Washington made four errors in the same game? The Nats committed five on July 15, 2011 in an 11-1 loss to the Atlanta Braves. This was the 12th time they have committed at least four errors in a game since moving to the District in 2005.

But this latest slip is part of a worrisome trend. Desmond is a two-time Gold Glove finalist in the National League, a player who has gone through rough stretches before in the field. He had 34 errors as a rookie in 2010 and within two years had whittled that to 15. Last year he went backward with 20 and in 2014 he already has seven errors.

“If I ever want to be the captain of this team - and I do - I’m going to have to be better than that,” Desmond said. “I’ve been in some dark places defensively, and this is right there with them. You’ve got to work through it, just like I have in the past, and go out there and play.”

Desmond’s first-inning boot on a Matt Carpenter grounder set a bad tone. An infield hit, a grounder past third base and a single put the Nats in an early 3-0 hole. In the fourth inning, Desmond fired a grounder from Jon Jay into the dirt well wide of LaRoche at first.

That set up runners at second and third and Wainwright then reached when Desmond flipped a ball to second baseman Danny Espinosa, who lost it transferring the ball out of his glove for yet another error. What should have been a force out was instead a run for St. Louis.

“Going back to last year, I was in the same exact position,” Desmond said of a bad early stretch defensively. “I don’t know how or why I get here. But look, I believe in myself. I believe I can be the best defensive shortstop in the game. Right now I’m not playing like that one bit. I’d be the first to tell you that.”

Starter Taylor Jordan (0-2, 5.94 ERA) wasn’t perfect, missing with his fastball too often, hitting a batter, failing to get a ball out of his glove on an infield grounder during that rough first inning and even crossing up catcher Jose Lobaton in the sixth. He was expecting a slider and thankful that the fastball whizzed wide.

But Jordan’s teammates didn’t give him much of a chance, either. He left in the sixth inning tagged with five earned runs and seven allowed overall, another forgetful night against a good team. Washington (9-7) is now 1-6 in games against Atlanta and St. Louis, its two nemeses, and 8-1 in games against the New York Mets and Miami Marlins.

It has now lost eight games in a row to the Cardinals dating to the disastrous Game 5 NL Division Series loss to them in 2012 and has lost 18 of its last 25 games against the Braves. Can the Nats put this ugliness behind them quickly?

“It’s not easy, but we have to. We cannot come tomorrow with that game in mind,” Lobaton said. “We’ve got to change. We’ve got to pass that day and just get ready for tomorrow. I’m not happy with that. I’m not happy with the game. I’m not happy with the way we played today. [Jordan] was really good. We didn’t play good [defense] for him. It’s not an excuse. I know we can do better.”

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