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No dramatic rally this night for Nationals

Aug 25, 2014, 11:50 PM EST

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PHILADELPHIA — The way things have been going lately, the Nationals weren’t surprised in the least to mount a last-ditch rally against Jonathan Papelbon with two outs in the ninth Monday night.

The only surprise was that they couldn’t quite finish it off and wound up losing for only the second time in 14 days.

Not that they didn’t try their darndest to pull off another miracle. Down two runs with two outs in the ninth, Wilson Ramos tagged a solo homer off Papelbon, trimming the deficit to one. An Asdrubal Cabrera single through the right side kept hopes alive, and Nate Schierholtz’s sharp grounder up the middle looked for a moment like it might continue the rally … until everyone realized shortstop Jimmy Rollins was shaded in that direction and was able to make an easy play that secured the Phillies’ 3-2 victory.

“Nate hit the ball hard,” manager Matt Williams said. “If that ball gets through, you never know where we’re at.”

For two weeks now, the Nationals have become baseball’s hottest team thanks to a flurry over come-from-behind wins, each more staggering than the previous. But, as Williams has been quick to mention throughout: “You never can count on that.”

So Monday night’s loss was less about a ninth-inning rally that came up short and more about the little things the Nationals didn’t do well earlier in the evening at Citizens Bank Park.

There was a home run allowed by Tanner Roark on a 2-2 changeup, “but it didn’t change, really,” the right-hander lamented. There was another run plated off Roark thanks to a potential double-play grounder that scooted under Danny Espinosa’s glove at second base. There was another home run allowed by Jerry Blevins to a right-handed hitter (now batting a hefty .315 off the reliever).

But above all else, there were a whole lot of unsuccessful at-bats against A.J. Burnett.

The Nationals have faced the veteran right-hander five times this season and have inflicted their share of damage against him. In two head-to-head encounters in D.C., Burnett is 0-2 with a 10.57 ERA.

But they’ve also seen Burnett at his very best, especially in this ballpark. In three starts against them in Philly this season, he is now 3-0 with a 1.74 ERA, elevating things to a whole new level Monday night by striking out 12 in only seven innings of work.

“A guy like that, he’s been in the league for a long time,” Bryce Harper said of the 37-year-old hurler. “He knows how to pitch. He knows what he’s doing out there, and tonight, he was very good. Sometimes you’ve just got to tip your cap. Nothing you can do about it.”

Perhaps there wasn’t much the Nationals could do against Burnett, but they did have a couple of opportunities over the course of the evening. Most notably, they got a leadoff double from Ian Desmond in the top of the seventh in what was at the time a 2-1 game. But with a chance to move the tying runner up to third base by pulling the ball to the right side, Harper swung at the first pitch he saw and lofted a flyball to left field for a quick out.

“I mean, he gave me a pitch I could actually hammer a little bit,” Harper said. “I think I just missed that pitch from putting it about 10 rows deep. I wish I could’ve got him over on that, but I saw a pitch I could drive and I tried to drive it out of the ballpark.”

Harper wasn’t alone in his inability to advance Desmond. Wilson Ramos followed with his own flyball on the first pitch he saw, as did Danny Espinosa.

Three at-bats with the tying runner in scoring position. Three pitches seen. Three outs made.

“The objective there is to hit the ball on the ground, to his pull-side, worst-case scenario,” Williams said of Harper’s at-bat. “But he was just late on a heater. Wilson did kind of the same thing. And then we’re out of that inning. We’re not gonna bunt there. We were looking at Harp going up there and pulling a ball, and he just didn’t get it done.”

The Nationals squandered another leadoff double in the eighth, this time from Kevin Frandsen off lefty Jake Diekman, and that forced them to try to pull off their latest dramatic rally down two runs in the ninth off Papelbon. After Desmond and Harper struck out to open the inning, hope appeared lost.

In the visitors’ dugout, though, confidence remained. Given the way they’ve played over the last two weeks, how could it not?

“Two-run difference is not a big difference,” Ramos said. “We can come back in those moments.”

The burly catcher did his part, crushing an opposite-field homer off Papelbon to reduce the deficit to one run. Cabrera, who was out of the lineup after feeling a tug on his right side on a swing Sunday afternoon, then came off the bench and drilled a sharp single to right, appearing quite healthy in the process.

Up stepped Schierholtz in another pinch-hitting role, and it’s hard to find fault with the veteran’s swing. He smoked a sharp grounder up the middle, unfortunately right where Rollins was stationed.

Thus, the Nationals trudged back to their clubhouse on the losing end of this ballgame. It’s not something they’ve experienced much lately. Which gave them all the reason in the world to think they might not experience it once again on this night.

“Absolutely,” Harper said. “[Ramos] hits a homer, 3-2 ballgame, Droobs gets that hit and Schierholtz comes up. That’s a great inning for us right there. I wish I could’ve got on base for us and been a part of that. But sometimes you lose, sometimes you win. That’s all part of it.”

  1. Natsone - Aug 26, 2014 at 1:39 AM

    Jerry Blevins had been no bueno. Huge disappointment this season.

    • Natsone - Aug 26, 2014 at 1:40 AM

      *has been

  2. laddieblahblah - Aug 26, 2014 at 3:27 AM

    The biggest takeaway from the game, for me, was seeing Cabrera (“Droobs”?) swing the bat for that PH after Ramos’ blast. He looked fine to me, and Matt would not have sent him up if he were concerned for his health.

    They are not going to win them all. Burnett out-pitched Roark in a pitcher’s duel. Each pitched well enough to win. The Nats had their chances after those lead-off doubles by Desi and Frandsen, but could not advance either runner, let alone drive either in.

    Schierholtz did make solid contact. He did not have the numbers this year, but the Nats reportedly think they can fix that with a change in approach, the “stack and jack.” Nate’s first AB as a Nat looked promising. The bench has really been productive lately. If Schu can bring Schierholtz around, too, so much the better.

    They are the best team in the league, and Rizzo keeps trying to make them better. He’s done a great job of it, and I would not be surprised if Schierholtz turned out to be another example of a small move that eventually provides a meaningful return. Mike’s batting average with moves like that is very good, and it seems to get better the more he works at it.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Aug 26, 2014 at 8:26 AM

      Schierholtz hit the ball hard and BABIP could’ve cooperated and didn’t. The pitch was outside and he just missed on it.

      If Schu can rework Schierholtz swing it would be a huge lift.

      When Ramos homered and Asdrubal got the pinchhit single I liked the Nats chances.

      It wasn’t meant to be and once again you have to look at 4 runs wins this game. What strategy do you have to score those 4? That has to be the strategy in each and every game in game approach. Is the opposing pitcher an Ace where you have to be patient and work counts and drive the pitch count up and think 2-1 will win it?

      Thinking 1 run at a time isn’t the worst strategy. Leadoff doubles lead to situational approaches. Think back to Ramos Walkoff the Saturday before. Bryce got to 2nd with no outs. Ramos immediately was working the inside pitch to inside out it and took a mistake and sent it onto the right field warning track for the walkoff double .

      Both Bryce and Denard in consecutive innings had an easier task. PULL THE DARN BALL. They pitched Bryce outside and he took the bait and sent the ball to LF and didn’t advance Desi. Span had Frandsen on 2nd and couldn’t advance him either. Why not a bunt for a hit in that situation with Rendon on deck?

      Poor execution doomed this game. Nats had their chances for 4.

      • bowdenball - Aug 26, 2014 at 9:14 AM

        I’m not sure why you think it’s an easy task to pull a ball against a pitcher who doesn’t want you to do so and is on his game. You say for example that Bryce “took the bait” on an outside pitch. But the pitch was a strike over the outside part of the plate. Did you see any evidence last night that Burnett would have had any trouble at all throwing him two more in the same spot if Harper had let it go? Would good does it do anyone to look at three strikes with a man on second and nobody out?

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Aug 26, 2014 at 9:34 AM

        All the credit to the pitcher. He got the batter out without advancing the runner.

        With a man on 2nd and no outs the first job of the pitcher is to get an out and if you can do it without allowing the runner to advance its a bonus.

        Bryce swung at the first pitch. It was an outside pitch and you hope he could inside out it in that particular situation.

        The 2 hitters after him also failed in RISP and the same happened the next inning.

        This was an emphasis in Spring Training. It wasn’t executed well but the pitcher also gets paid to execute, and he did.

      • dgourds - Aug 26, 2014 at 9:52 AM

        Bowdenball, I think when there’s a fresh count, you do take that outside strike if your objective is to pull the ball. Sure, he was dealing and could probably have put the ball there for strike 2 and 3. But there’s no reason to swing at anything but your pitch with a 0-0 count when you have to move the runner up. Hopefully Harper and the coaching staff will learn from this.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Aug 26, 2014 at 10:11 AM

        Thanks dgourds. That’s the point or at least get out in front to pull it. An outside pitch can still be pulled if you catch it out front.

      • Soul Possession, Sec 3, My Sofa - Aug 26, 2014 at 10:44 AM

        That’s the trap. Give a young hitter something he thinks he can drive, and “make him beat you the other way,” as FP likes to say. Risky, in that Harper *can* beat you oppo, but it works if you execute the pitch. Obviously.

        Impulse control is the takeaway Matty was alluding to in the postgame: the wily old pro will take “probably gets the runner to third with one out, and some chance it gets him in” over “I thought I could put it ten rows deep.” Burnett makes a very nice living getting people to *think* they can put it ten rows deep. Well, a curveball ain’t nobody gonna hit doesn’t hurt, either.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Aug 26, 2014 at 12:55 PM

        It’s a learning process for sure.

  3. ArVAFan - Aug 26, 2014 at 6:38 AM

    Unrelated item: the umpires also recommended reading As They See ‘Em by Bruce Weber. Thanks to Amazon Prime, I now have that on hand, you know in case I get bored on Thursday night with no game. Or I may save it for those long winter months with no baseball.

  4. edshelton2013 - Aug 26, 2014 at 7:49 AM

    How do you explain Burnett’s domination against us at home? He’s 3-0 with 1.74, while his season record was 6-14 with 4.50.
    And 12 K’s in seven innings. It’s troubling.

    • Hiram Hover - Aug 26, 2014 at 8:02 AM

      Really? I’m annoyed, but not troubled at all.

      Because the Phillies don’t matter, and because Burnett doesn’t matter–the Nats won’t face him in Philly again this season.

      And because there’s a good chance it’s just random variation over a small and arbitrary sample anyway, with no meaningful predictive value.

  5. NatsLady - Aug 26, 2014 at 8:12 AM

    I think the boys were tired. Remember FP saying when players are tired they swing. Also, I remember a report a couple of years ago that talked about role fatigue plays in strikeouts toward the end of a season. So that’s what I thought in the 5-pitch inning.

    (a) They haven’t had an off-day since Aug 11. That’s 14 games, with 2 to go, and even the off-day coming up will basically be a recovery day from coast-to-coast travel.
    (b) During the course of the 14 games, only 4 were blowouts (either way), and one of the blowouts was the 14-6 game which was the great comeback. So ten close games, 8 one-run games (including last night). I’d say that only two of the 14 games (7-1 NYM, 8-1 ARZ) were “easy” games.
    (c) Prior to that, they played 17 in a row. So that’ll be 31 games with one day off in the middle of the stretch.
    (d) You have to figure there’s a bit of an adrenalin drain after the San Fran series, especially the Sunday game. You leave 35K cheering fans–plus your own nest–to go on a 5 hour bus ride, and then to half-empty stadium with a pitcher who’s on his game and probably spots the fatigue before warmups are over.

    It’s up to Matt, the trainers, and the players to manage the mental and physical fatigue. All the contending teams are in the same position–in that, the teams that a long out of it have an advantage, they can pick and choose which games to put in that extra effort, the Nats can’t, at least not until they’re within a few games of clinching.

    • ehay2k - Aug 26, 2014 at 8:35 AM

      Natslady, nice post. I can believe that they are tired from playing all those (close) games in row, because I am tired from just watching them!

      But they don’t get a day off until Thursday, so time to buckle down and beat the Phillies twice and take the series, just as they did to the Giants, who are a better team. Then enjoy a day off.

    • Nats fool - Aug 26, 2014 at 8:44 AM

      They did seem tired. I think having Cabrera in the lineup helps also. He has a good plate approach that helps Bryce and Desmond. His at-bats also put pressure on opposing pitchers, especially at the bottom of the lineup.

    • knoxvillenat - Aug 26, 2014 at 9:13 AM

      Agree with the post but do have one question. Do the Nats really bus the team up to Philly for these games or do they take a train, which I think would make more sense and be quicker than a bus?

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Aug 26, 2014 at 9:25 AM

        Usually bus to Philly and Balt and train to NYC.

      • Soul Possession, Sec 3, My Sofa - Aug 26, 2014 at 10:35 AM

        They have a pretty nice bus. They don’t have their own train.

        I imagine some of the players drive, unless Matty wants them on the bus.

      • natsfan1a - Aug 26, 2014 at 10:40 AM

        Surely not under it. (I would think, but I could be wrong, but probably not. Anyhoo…)

        “I imagine some of the players drive, unless Matty wants them on the bus.”

      • 6ID20 - Aug 26, 2014 at 11:01 AM

        Bus can leave straight from the ballpark and dump them right at the hotel on the other end. Not so with train. Also, it’s doubtful that any players drive to Philly when they’re going from there to another road city. Maybe if the wife goes to Philly with them.

    • RPrecupjr - Aug 26, 2014 at 11:06 AM


      “go on a 5 hour bus ride”

      Are they pushing the bus? It’s 134 miles door to door from Nats Park to CBP. That’s just over two hours. Five hours would mean averaging 27 mph. I would hope their bus is a little better than the one I assume the P-Nats use :)

  6. scnatsfan - Aug 26, 2014 at 8:29 AM

    ALR needs to start hitting lefties. Going to see some tough ones as the season, and hopefully offseason, progresses.

    • bowdenball - Aug 26, 2014 at 10:10 AM

      All lefty sluggers struggle to varying degrees against left-handed pitching. Do you think he can just snap his fingers and start hitting them like he’s Barry Bonds? Let’s just be thankful he’s not Ryan Howard.

      A more practical idea would be to move him down in the order against left-handed starters. It’s not really an option until Ryan Zimmerman returns, though.

      • Hiram Hover - Aug 26, 2014 at 10:57 AM


        ALR is hitting lefties somewhat worse than his career averages (.198/.293/.302, 71 wRC+ vs lefties in 2014, vs .240/.299/.418, 89 wRC+ career).

        Getting back up to those career #s would be nice, esp. in terms of the slugging, but expecting a huge improvement is unrealistic.

  7. TimDz - Aug 26, 2014 at 8:58 AM

    I didn’t follow the thread last night, but I have a question….

    When the Phillies scored their first run, the Nats had a chance to turn a double play on a ball hit up the middle, second base side……Espinosa typically makes that play, but he looked really awkward approaching it and it skidded off his glove….

    Was anyone else expecting that DP to be made and was surprised when Danny missed the ball?

    • Soul Possession, Sec 3, My Sofa - Aug 26, 2014 at 9:11 AM

      Pretty much everybody, including Danny, Matty, and FP.

    • ehay2k - Aug 26, 2014 at 9:11 AM

      I certainly was thinking a DP was possible. But I expected Espi to make the stop at a minimum. Was really surprised he couldn’t. Could be some rust there, given his dearth of playing time recently.

      • thomaswell - Aug 26, 2014 at 10:32 AM

        rust and mentally pissed that Cabrera is doing so well?

      • Soul Possession, Sec 3, My Sofa - Aug 26, 2014 at 10:50 AM

        “pissed that Cabrera is doing so well?”

        Well, there wss that awkward bit a few years back with Lombo, but there’s no evidence of it since, with Cabrera, afaik. Is there?

      • Hiram Hover - Aug 26, 2014 at 10:58 AM

        mentally pissed

        Better than physically–that really would have been embarrassing….

    • NatsLady - Aug 26, 2014 at 9:11 AM

      Everyone was surprised, yes. I was listening on the radio, and C&D were shocked.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Aug 26, 2014 at 9:28 AM

        He didn’t get his glove down. Maybe some rust. Not a difficult play but that’s the play that I’ve seen lesser fielders botch on that backhand while they are thinking doubleplay they don’t make the first part which is fielding the ball.

      • Section 222 - Aug 26, 2014 at 10:47 AM

        I’d say it’ was a difficult, but eminently makeable play. We’ve seen Cabrera make it, and miss it, already this year. Same with Danny. In that situation you have to at least stop the ball from getting through, whether or not you field it cleanly. Very big play in the game. I think it underlines a point several of us have made that Danny is a very good fielder, but far from perfect. And if there’s weak link in his game it’s his glove, not his arm or range.

      • natsguy - Aug 26, 2014 at 12:38 PM

        Think back to that awful 9th inning in October 2012 and then understand my complete disdain for Espinosa.

  8. NatsLady - Aug 26, 2014 at 11:18 AM

    I expanded on the Fatigue Factor here. Also, notice who hit yesterday:

    Ramos (rested Sunday)
    Desi (scorekeeper’s generosity, and Domonic Brown being Domonic Brown)
    Rendon (OK, he was awake, and also made two good fielding plays)
    Cabrera (came off the bench)
    Frandsen (came off the bench)
    Roark (rested for five days, cause he’s y’know, a pitcher)

    Harper, Span, LaRoche (lefties) went 0 for 12.
    Werth might have gotten a hit in the 9th if Paps had given him anything TO hit.
    Schierholtz might have gotten a hit…Ah, well…

    • NatsLady - Aug 26, 2014 at 11:20 AM

      Er, Roark rested for four days. If I could only count…

  9. askingwater - Aug 26, 2014 at 11:33 AM

    When is anyone going to seriously take Williams to task for his obsession with Blevins? Why does he continue to think that he is going to “hold the fort” while the Nats try a comeback? Blevins should only be used in TWO situations:

    1) To create a specific left-on-left matchup against a hitter. Once that hitter is retired or gets a hit, Blevins needs to come out…unless another lefty bat is next (NOT TWO BATTERS AWAY “NEXT” BUT LITERALLY NEXT).

    2) In blow-out games when the Nats are down four or more runs late and the chances of a comeback are slim.

    In the game last night, Blevins was brought in to protect a one-run lead. Are you kidding? Drew Storen can only be used when there’s a lead? What sacred baseball text is that written in?

    If Blevins doesn’t surrender that HR, the game could’ve gone to the 10th inning after the Buffalo’s HR in the 9th. But Williams has this infatuation with Blevins like he’s Lefty Grove. I don’t get it.

    As bad as the Nats can be at the plate, I don’t think the players will cost us a pennant; Williams will.





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