- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Washington Nationals returned home Wednesday after a weeklong road trip, but apparently they left their hot bats in Tampa Bay.

One night after one of the most prolific offensive performances in club history, the Nationals turned in an absolute dud against the Tampa Bay Rays, losing 5-0. Jordan Zimmermann was solid but unspectacular, allowing three earned runs, and a sloppy eighth inning put the game out of reach.

The game was delayed in the middle of the eighth inning because of rain.

THE RUNDOWN: In an untraditional move, the Rays sent reliever Steve Geltz to the mound to start the game before replacing him with Matt Andriese, the game’s projected starter. It didn’t matter much, as both pitchers were equally effective against a streaky Nationals lineup. After recording 23 hits and 16 runs in Tampa Bay on Tuesday, Washington crashed down to Earth on Wednesday with a two-hit, no-run performance. Zimmermann had to be almost perfect to keep his sputtering offense in the game, and though he was much better than he was in his last start, he wasn’t dominant. He surrendered eight hits over seven innings, including a pair of solo homers in the fifth, to give the Rays a lead they would never relinquish.

THE HIGHLIGHT: It’s not exactly a highlight if you’re a Nationals fan, but it’s not every day you see a Little League home run like the one Steven Souza Jr. had Wednesday night. In the eighth inning, with a steady rain falling, he laid down a bunt and let the Nationals do the rest. Blake Treinen threw the ball over Danny Espinosa’s head at first base for an error. Then Bryce Harper tried to throw a runner out at the plate and fired the ball into the Rays’ dugout. Another error. Souza came around to score. Slippery conditions or not, it was ugly.

STAR OF THE GAME: Souza only played in 21 big-league games for the Nationals in 2014, but his no-hitter-saving catch in the regular-season finale endeared him to fans here forever. So when he stepped to the plate for his first at-bat Wednesday, it was not surprising that he received a lengthy and loud ovation from the crowd. The cheers ended when Souza singled to left field off Jordan Zimmermann, and they turned to a handful of boos in the fifth, when he hit a solo home run over the visitor’s bullpen. He finished 3 for 4.

THE TAKEAWAY: Given the injuries they’ve dealt with this season, it’s unfair to expect the Nationals to be a bastion of offensive efficiency. Their everyday lineup is littered with guys who were expected to be bench players at best. Inconsistency is a given under those circumstances. But the extreme degree of Washington’s streaks — both positive and negative — has been startling. Beyond Harper, Max Scherzer, Yunel Escobar and Drew Storen, nobody has really been consistent all year. If the Nationals are going to put together some sort of winning streak, they’ll need to start there: By being more consistent on a nightly basis.

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