- - Thursday, July 5, 2018

It may be a surprise that it took a fifth straight loss and a record below .500 in early July for the Nationals to call a team-only meeting.

The fact it was spearheaded by ace pitcher Max Scherzer, an alpha male who is intense whether he is pitching or watching, should not come as a shocker.

Scherzer, who last pitched Monday, and other veterans called for a meeting after the Nationals lost 3-0 at home to the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday.

The loss left the Nationals with a record of 42-43 and a mark of 9-17 since June 1, with eight losses in their last nine games.

“In June we took a swoon,” general manager Mike Rizzo said Thursday on 106.7 FM The Fan. “The effort is there. Guys are playing hard, they really care. This is a performance league. We are just not getting it done.”

Third-place Washington is seven games back of first-place Atlanta and 5½ games behind second-place Philadelphia going into its home game on Thursday at 7:05 p.m. against the Miami Marlins.

So will the meeting make a difference?

That, of course, is the big question with less than half of the season left for the Nationals, who won the division by 20 games last year and were considered a World Series favorite in 2018.

“Nothing is happening exactly like we want right now, and tomorrow is another day and we’ll come to fight like we do every day,” catcher Pedro Severino told reporters after Wednesday’s game.

“We’re a good team and we can go out there and compete with anybody, just got to keep grinding keep doing our thing and good things will happen,” said outfielder Bryce Harper, when asked about the meeting. “We’ve never been in this position before and I think it’s an exciting time for us. I think in years past we’ve won the division by a lot of games and we’re able to be behind right now and I’m excited to get out there and contest it.”

Veteran outfielder Adam Eaton, who came off the disabled list June 9, drew parallels to the Washington Capitals when discussing the plight of the Nationals. He noted the Capitals were struggling around Thanksgiving but came together and made a run to the Stanley Cup title.

“It was definitely emotional, I think any time Max holds court it’s going to be emotional and there’s going to be some yelling. So it’s just always good,” Eaton said. “In baseball, you don’t have that type of intensity all the time, so it’s a little different, but I think guys gravitate towards that, I think everybody has kind of an intensity bone in their body and sometimes things need to be said in that fashion. I think the boys are going to grab a hold of it.”

Nationals shortstop Trea Turner, hitting .361 in his past 15 games, was asked about the tenor of the meeting.

“Let’s get this thing going. We all know that we’re capable of playing better baseball and it’s time we do it. It’s do or die now,” he said.

So who delivered the messages?

“It’s a little bit of everybody,” Turner said. “It’s kind of fluid. Some guys I guess gain respect throughout the year. You have veteran guys, you have young guys playing, so I think different teams kind of know who their guys are that have the respect of everybody and those guys talked.”

Dave Martinez, the first-year manager, has remained upbeat during the losing stretch. Earlier in the year, the Nationals were 11-16 before winning 14 of their next 16 games.

The club needs a stretch like that to get back into the division race. The Marlins could provide that sort of fodder, with Jeremey Hellickson (2-1, 2.63) slated to pitch Thursday at Nationals Park.

The Nationals rotation for the rest of the series includes Gio Gonzalez (6-5, 3.37) on Friday at 7:05 p.m., Scherzer (10-5, 2.16) on Saturday at 7:15 p.m. and Tanner Roark (3-10, 4.60) on Sunday at 1:35 p.m.

Gonzalez last got a win on May 28, Scherzer last won on June 5 and the last victory for Roark came on June 6, at home against Tampa Bay. Since then Erick Fedde is the only Washington starting pitcher to post a win, his first ever on June 29 at Philadelphia.

“I’m not going to hold my head down,” Martinez said. “I’ve been in this game long enough, and I’ve played this game long enough, coached long enough. The last thing you want is people — that’s what would really bother me if people start hanging their head and feeling sorry for yourself. There’s no way we’re going to feel sorry ourselves.”


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