- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 14, 2015

BOSTON — The first three answers that Matt Williams offered in his postgame press conference Monday evening all ended with the same phrase: “It’s got to get better.”

Two nights earlier, his Washington Nationals had blown a 2-0 lead in the eighth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies and lost in extras, 3-2. The popular phrase in the clubhouse then: “We’ll be fine.”

The difference is not that the Nationals lost, but how they lost. Every team will drop a few close games like the one Washington had Saturday, where the offense struggles and a reliever has a poor outing. But few teams lose with the combination of weak hitting, porous fielding and shaky pitching that the Nationals displayed in their 9-4 loss to the Red Sox.

“It’s not shocking to have a pitcher that doesn’t have a good day,” Williams said, referencing Jordan Zimmermann’s short outing Monday. “But if you don’t help him, it makes the day even worse. He had opportunities to get out of a couple innings there and couldn’t get out of them because we didn’t catch the baseball. That being said, it’ll get better. It’s got to get better.”

The fundamental mistakes are what most bother Williams. Some of them show up in the box score, like Ian Desmond’s throwing error in the second inning. Many do not.

There was the first inning, when Mookie Betts stole two bases because the Nationals were in a shift and Zimmermann was a step late covering third base. Or the third, when two routine fly balls fell harmlessly to the ground for hits and a tough but playable ground ball resulted in an infield hit.

“Ball goes in the air, we’ve got to catch it. Ball’s on the ground, we’ve got to make the plays,” Williams said. “Our pitching staff relies on that. We’ve got to come through with guys in scoring position. Simple game. But those things have to happen if we’re going to win.”

Everyone in the Nationals’ clubhouse wants to see improvement. But they also know that there are 155 games left in the season, and pressing can often do more harm than good.

“I mean obviously we want to play better,” Desmond said, “but urgency’s something that you think about later on in the season I think. Many really good players have said this game is 100 percent mental. I think that’s about bouncing back, and we’ve shown the capability to do that in the past and I fully expect us to come out tomorrow and play a lot better and win the game.”

“I’m not going to get too frustrated at this point,” Jayson Werth added. “I don’t think anybody in here should be overly frustrated. We’re not playing the type of ball we want to play. But things can change really quick. You look back to last year and the years before, we’ve overcome more than this. It’s just a game. We’ll put it behind us and get ready for tomorrow.”

After entering this season as odds-on favorites to win the World Series, the Nationals are 2-5 through the first seven games. Williams said it’s merely a talented group of players going through a tough stretch. He does not think the expectations surrounding the team have played a role in the slow start.

“They were there last year. It makes no difference,” he said. “Nobody’s tight. Nobody’s playing tight. It’s a function of catching it and making pitches and getting base hits. Nobody’s tight. Those expectations were there long before today.”

• Tom Schad can be reached at tschad@washingtontimes.com.

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