- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 15, 2015

SAN FRANCISCO — Bryce Harper thought the Washington Nationals put together better at-bats than they have lately. Max Scherzer believes he discovered what went wrong.

Despite Washington’s fourth consecutive loss, manager Matt Williams was optimistic.

The Nationals lost, 8-5, to the San Francisco Giants on Friday, though the offense looked better even as Scherzer worked through his worst start of the season.

“It was a better offensive night,” Williams said after the Nationals put up four runs in the fifth inning following a three-game stretch where they scored one run combined. “Hopefully that carries.”

Harper hit a home run and drove in four runs and Danny Espinosa also went deep for the Nationals, who lost for the fifth time in the last six games.

“We’re trying to have good at bats and I think we did that today,” Harper said. “Hopefully, we can take that into tomorrow, the next couple of days and keep having fun.”

Since sweeping the Giants in early July to go up a season-high 4 1/2 games in the National League East, the Nationals are 12-21 and have dropped 4 1/2 games behind the New York Mets.

Scherzer is 2-4 over his past nine starts, though that’s not all on him. Going forward he thinks he understands how to fix things.

“It’s an arm action thing. I’m just off a little bit,” he said. “It’s not a huge fix but it is a time-consuming fix. I have to create a good habit with it.”

Scherzer (11-9), facing the Giants for the first time since Game 4 of the 2012 World Series, gave up a season-high six runs and seven hits over three innings. He allowed two home runs and has given up five over his past two starts after giving up 13 through his first 22 outings.

Scherzer struck out three and did not walk a batter.

“My fastball was flattening out,” Scherzer said. “And they did a lot of damage on the fastball. I’m going to have to throw a ball 10,000 times against a wall before my next start just to make sure I have this habit.”

Matt Cain failed to finish the fifth inning for a second consecutive start, allowing five runs on six hits in 4 2/3 innings for the Giants. He walked one and struck out three. Cain has given up 18 runs over his last four starts and has a ERA of 8.24 over that stretch.

Jeremy Affeldt (2-2) took over for Cain in the fifth and pitched an inning to get the win.

Harper’s 30th home run, a three-run shot in the fifth, pulled the Nationals to 6-5. Cain allowed two more baserunners — including one that reached on an error — before Affeldt ended the threat.

Harper, who hit a sacrifice fly in the first, became the 37th player to hit as many as 30 home runs as a 22-year old.

Nationals second baseman Dan Uggla, currently on the disabled list with a back issue, was presented with a World Series ring by the Giants on Friday night. Uggla appeared in four games last year with the defending champions, going 0-for-12 with a run scored and a walk.

Left-hander Gio Gonzalez (9-4, 3.50 ERA) goes for his sixth consecutive win on Saturday when he opposes Giants right-hander Jake Peavy (2-5, 3.75 ERA). Gonzalez, who threw eight scoreless innings against the Los Angeles Dodgers in his last start, has an ERA of 1.48 over his last eight starts.

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