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Missed opportunity

May 4, 2014, 7:51 PM EDT

AP AP

PHILADELPHIA — Though they’ve managed to be more productive at the plate than most would have thought given the prolonged absence of three key lineup regulars, the Nationals still aren’t taking full advantage of the mountains of opportunities they keep giving themselves.

Take Sunday’s 1-0 loss at Citizens Bank Park, a game in which Gio Gonzalez pitched brilliantly for 7 1/3 innings and gave his teammates every opportunity to scratch out the two runs that would have been necessary to beat the Phillies. Instead, the Nationals went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position, quashing the few opportunities they had against a surprisingly effective Roberto Hernandez, and left town having missed a chance both to win this series and take over first place in the NL East.

“It happens,” said Gonzalez after taking a hard-luck loss. “It’s baseball. Can’t do anything about it. There will be nights where these guys give me 7-8 runs. I’m still proud of them. They went out there and gave me a chance.”

The Nationals have been giving themselves a chance just about every night they take the field. They’ve shown an uncanny ability to come from behind and win games, often delivering clutch hits at just the right time.

But if it still feels like they’ve missed opportunities to do even more, they have. Despite a .253 total team batting average, 13th in the majors, they’re hitting only .219 with runners in scoring position, 25th out of 30 MLB clubs.

Whether such stats matter is the subject of much debate around the sport. Manager Matt Williams doesn’t believe that trend will continue and points to the number of opportunities his team has had with runners in scoring position (330, ninth-most in the majors) as the most-encouraging sign of what is yet to come.

“We talk about opportunities and creating those opportunities,” Williams said. “We’ve had some really key hits over the course of the season so far. We wouldn’t have come back so many times if we didn’t. Today wasn’t our day. But I like where our offense is. That number is a little skewed, I think, per our team and the way we’ve been playing.”

The Nationals were stymied Sunday by a surprising presence on the mound. With Cole Hamels scratched due to flu-like symptoms, the Phillies instead turned to Hernandez, the former All-Star and Cy Young Award finalist who claimed to be named Fausto Carmona until a 2011 investigation proved he falsified his birth records.

Whatever his name, the guy who pitched Sunday for Philadelphia looked a whole like the guy who won 19 games for the Indians in 2007, especially after he got himself out of a first-inning jam.

The Nationals put three straight men on base in the opening frame yet never advanced one of them as far as third base. That’s because Kevin Frandsen was thrown out trying to go first-to-third on Jayson Werth’s single to left, hindering the Nats’ early scoring opportunity.

“I’ll go a hundred times out of a hundred on that one,” Frandsen said. “Especially with one out. Knowing J-Dub is aggressive behind me and is going to be on second base. One guy is going to be in scoring position, or two guys. And it took a perfect throw to get it. I’m not second-guessing that at all.”

Neither was his manager.

“Was it wise? Yeah,” Williams said. “We want to be aggressive. We want to make sure that we’re putting pressure. At the end of the day, it looks like a play that if we didn’t do, we may have a different opportunity. I’ve got no problem with it.”

Little did anyone realize at the time it would be the Nationals’ best chance to score the entire day. They did get two more men to third base, but each came with two outs and was followed by a strikeout (Gonzalez in the top of the second, Anthony Rendon in the top of the eighth).

With one final opportunity against Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon in the ninth, Sandy Leon delivered a two-out single to right. Zach Walters, the last man on the bench other than backup catcher Jose Lobaton, battled Papelbon and twice sent long fly balls down the right-field line that were pushed foul thanks to a strong crosswind before striking out on a high fastball to end the game

“He had one heck of an at-bat there, giving himself two chances,” Frandsen said. “You really can’t ask for anything better than that. He battled. I wouldn’t say he battled. I thought he owned that at-bat. Unfortunately at the end, one pitch.”

And so the Nationals head home on a two-game losing streak, 17-14 overall but only 1/2-game out of first place thanks to a Braves club that has lost six straight.

Reinforcements are coming soon. Outfielder Scott Hairston could come off the disabled list as soon as Monday. Wilson Ramos has three homers in three rehab games and could be back before the end of the Nationals’ upcoming series against the Dodgers. Doug Fister will make his season debut Friday in Oakland. And Ryan Zimmerman is expected to return from a broken thumb in roughly two weeks.

“I have no worries with this team,” Gonzalez said. “These guys are awesome, they work hard, they come in ready every day. I don’t see nothing wrong with us. We’re going to keep battling and keep giving people a run for their money.”

  1. NatsLady - May 4, 2014 at 8:29 PM

    Two weeks for Zim? Wow, time flies!! Will be so glad to see his Face…:)

  2. rmoore446 - May 4, 2014 at 8:30 PM

    We are really missing the middle of the order sluggers. This one was tough to watch. Getting Ramos back with help but we need Zim and eventually Harper.

    • NatsLady - May 4, 2014 at 8:52 PM

      Werth and LaRoche are playing on “grit” alone. Werth is looking pretty slow out there, and MW doesn’t have enough pinch runners for LaRoche…

      • dcwx61 - May 4, 2014 at 9:47 PM

        Important for McLouth to stop pulling everything for a groundball to 2nd base. Hopefully, will adjust soon to be the starter for the next two months for Harper as well as giving werth a rest now and again.
        In two weeks, Zimm replaces Epsi and that should be a huge positive for RISP.

  3. Eugene in Oregon - May 4, 2014 at 8:39 PM

    ‘Missed opportunity’ is exactly the right characterization of today’s loss. It’s too early to be overly worried about standings and such, but you still want to win games when you can and should. And even without Messrs. Zimmerman, Ramos, and Harper, the Nats could (and should) have been able to plate at least a couple of runs against Roberto Hernandez. I don’t believe in ‘clutch hitting’ as it’s often defined (which is so loosely as to be virtually meaningless), but I do believe there are times when major league hitters have to change their approach at the plate and find ways to get on base, advance the runner, etc.

    • veejh - May 4, 2014 at 9:40 PM

      Disagree. Hitting under pressure vs no pressure is huge. This is what wins championships (along with good pitching, of course).

  4. David Proctor - May 4, 2014 at 8:52 PM

    The difference between being .5 up and .5 back on May 4 is virtually nothing. However, we have a really tough stretch coming up. We play the Dodgers and A’s and we get the front of their rotations. Fister is coming off the DL. We need to have reasonable expectations for his first start. Of course, the same could be said for Kershaw, but Kershaw is the best pitcher in the game.

    If we go 3-3 over the next 6, that’s a success. The LOD will be out, but when you’re facing Greinke, Kershaw, Haren, Gray, Kazmir and Chavez, that’s a success.

    • veejh - May 4, 2014 at 9:43 PM

      I’m sure the other clubs feel exactly the same way with our rotation, especially w Fister returning Friday. I will be at that game, no doubt.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - May 5, 2014 at 8:37 AM

        You can’t say that enough to this group. Nats held Phools ton1 run yesterday. That wins 90%+ of the time.

    • dcwx61 - May 4, 2014 at 9:54 PM

      I’ll be at the park tomorrow. We’ll win. Irrational Exhuberance, Heck no.

  5. senators5 - May 4, 2014 at 9:21 PM

    My concern is exactly like the one most of you are writing about. The BENCH or the lack of one. We get an occasional push from T. Moore and Fransden, but other than that, ZERO and Espinosa is clearly heading south again and who expected Desmond to join him? I know we are getting guys back, but who goes next and who fills their cleats? From the looks of the rest of the National League East it appears that all of the teams share the same dilemma, lousy benches and poor defenses. So we will just have to ride it out to see which team stays the healthiest, and that could easily be the Marlins.

    • David Proctor - May 4, 2014 at 9:38 PM

      The Marlins pitching is real, but their offense isn’t sustainable. The BABIPs on some members of that team are comical. They’ve been getting contributions from guys like Casey McGee, who wasn’t even in MLB last year. The league will adjust. Stanton looks primed for a monster year. The Marlins will be decent, but they’re not a serious threat to win the division.

      The problem with our bench is that all our decent bench players have been pressed into starting. As we get healthier, we stop having those issues. For example, when Ramos returns, we get Lobaton as a backup. That’s a great backup, whereas Leon really isn’t (though I do like him behind the plate). McLouth has been awful, but he also has a BABIP of like .100. It’ll turn.

      • veejh - May 4, 2014 at 9:47 PM

        We just need our starters back. Patience.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - May 5, 2014 at 8:39 AM

      The Zach Walters left-handed saga goes on. I think for now you have to consider him a RH only. 0-9 with a stack of 3 pitch Ks as a lefty.

  6. dcwx61 - May 4, 2014 at 9:51 PM

    McLouth has an important role to play for the next 2 month while Harper recovers and give Werth a break.
    Having automajic RISP outs of Espi/McLouth/Lobaton is nearing an end

    • Mrsb loves the Nats - May 4, 2014 at 10:17 PM

      I understand why McLouth gets the nod…. But id rather Souza get it….

      • David Proctor - May 4, 2014 at 10:25 PM

        Souza is back to AAA tomorrow when Hairston comes off the DL.

      • dcwx61 - May 4, 2014 at 10:30 PM

        Interesting…Why ?

      • dcwx61 - May 4, 2014 at 10:31 PM

        whoops….I was asking Mrs B why

      • Mrsb loves the Nats - May 4, 2014 at 10:34 PM

        DP – totally forgot about him… Haven’t been a major Hairston fan at all..

        I know why MCLouth gets the nod and yes he needs the at bats… But I think we know what we’ve got in him… I like Souza in the OF and I think he will come back up when rosters expand… Give the kid a chance and a taste of the ML….

  7. dcwx61 - May 4, 2014 at 9:53 PM

    But still prefer Rendon at third and Zimm somewhere else…He can’t be moved to first with ALR. I hope the Nats consider giving him some chances at second.

  8. dcwx61 - May 4, 2014 at 9:58 PM

    And Kershaw has his 1st game back so as we manage expectations with Fister, Rational exhuberance rules against Kershaw and Haren who never pitched well in DC. I’m predicting a sweep.

    • veejh - May 4, 2014 at 10:05 PM

      I like the sound of this. I’m in.

  9. ArVAFan - May 5, 2014 at 8:15 AM

    For some morning entertainment:

    http://wapc.mlb.com/cutfour/2014/05/04/74302070/nyjer-morgan-gets-bunt-down-has-trouble-running

    • Section 222 - May 5, 2014 at 10:46 AM

      That’s pretty funny. Here’s my question: Did he keep running to 1B or veer off to the dugout? If the latter, was he benched? :)

  10. philipd763 - May 5, 2014 at 8:53 AM

    McClouth…$10.5 million over two years….and a .091 batting average. Reminds me of Matt Stairs, except Stairs was paid peanuts. Rizzo has shown over the years he is totally incapable of signing decent bench players.

  11. micksback1 - May 5, 2014 at 8:53 AM

    If hamels had been pitching, i would feel a lot better, that is what is frustrating about not scoring. But, these games happen and this is where not having Harp, Zim and Ramos caught up. McClouth is a bust period. On the good side, Gio looked like a Cy Young pitcher.

  12. micksback1 - May 5, 2014 at 8:55 AM

    I notice Michael Morse is a beast in SF. 7 HR, batting 312. I am happy for him. Contrast him to McClouth who just plain SUCKS!

  13. Theophilus T.S. - May 5, 2014 at 9:07 AM

    Hairston at Syracuse: 1-for-10. This is progress . . . how?

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