- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 28, 2017

Over the course of a 162-game season, intentionally resting players is to be expected. With a nine-game road trip out west ahead, the Washington Nationals on Sunday decided to test that strategy to the limit — starting Sunday’s finale against the San Diego Padres with Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy, Jayson Werth and Matt Wieters on the pine.

Against one of the worst teams in baseball, the thinking went, Washington’s depth would prevail.

But starter Joe Ross dug a hole the Nationals couldn’t climb out of in a 5-3 loss that was initially delayed an hour and 20 minutes because of rain. The Nationals‘ depth didn’t muster enough offense for a rally despite eight hits.

For once, the Nationals‘ starting pitching caused problems rather than the bullpen.

Ross (2-1, 6.18 ERA) gave up 12 hits and five runs in four innings plus three batters and was pulled in the fifth after allowing two runs. It was Ross’ first loss against the Padres, who drafted him in 2011. He was traded to Washington in 2014.

Ross was making his second start since being recalled from Triple-A Syracuse on May 23. Washington has hopes the 24-year-old can solidify the fifth starting spot and take some pressure off the bullpen.

‌He got off to a shaky start, allowing a 2-run shot in the first to Padres third baseman Ryan Schimpf. Ross delivered a slider on a 1-2 pitch with two outs and Schimpf sent it to right field. The Nationals loaded the bases in the bottom of the inning with no outs, but only managed to produce one run.

“Pitching inside a little bit better today would have been one thing (to improve on),” Ross said. “I feel like I kind of fell behind in some counts. I didn’t execute great on two-strike counts. There’s things I can take into the next game and games after that.”

The Nationals (30-19) chipped away each time it appeared the Padres were about to blow the game open, but Washington failed to score more than one run in an inning.

The Padres (19-33) made it a 5-2 game in the fifth inning when shortstop Chase d’Arnaud singled to center to drive in two runs. Ross was pulled after and replaced by Joe Turner.

“It was the command of his slider,” Nationals bench coach Chris Speier said regarding Ross’ performance. “He left some pitches out over the middle of the plate. He didn’t the sharpness he had in the last time.”

Hoping for a comeback, Chris Speier, who was filling in for Dusty Baker, used Werth and Wieters as pinch hitters in the sixth and eighth innings. He also used Murphy in the ninth inning. None of the moves worked as all three failed to reach base.

The Nationals were 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position and left nine runners on base.

“We hit the ball well, but we don’t have the results to show for it,” said right fielder Brian Goodwin, who started for Harper. “We just ran out of time.”

The closest the Nationals came to turning the game back in their favor was in the bottom of the seventh when Anthony Rendon was on third and Adam Lind was on first. With two outs, however, Michael A. Taylor struck out and the Padres escaped the jam.

The Nationals head to California to start a three-game series with the San Francisco Giants on Monday. After, they’ll cross the bridge to play the Oakland Athletics and then conclude their road trip with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Washington went 9-1 on their last extended road trip. Speier was asked what was the challenge heading west.

“Sunscreen,” he said, jokingly. “No. They’re good teams. Those are teams that are playing well. It comes down to the same things that most teams look far. Get that great starting pitching and timely hitting. It’s just a matter of being focused.”

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