For the past month, the Nationals have faced one of the most brutal tests baseball can provide: a 32-game stretch against perhaps the best two divisions in the sport, the American and National League east. Success against those nine teams, seven of which had winning records when those series began, would solidify the Nationals as the strongest contender in their division.
They have fared well, but finished on a sour note against the Baltimore Orioles on Sunday. Despite an offensive contribution from their ailing third baseman, the Nationals fell to the Orioles, 2-1, to complete the swing with an 18-14 record.
The team has compiled that record even as it sent 14 players to the disabled list and may send third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, the cornerstone of the franchise, back for a second trip. Zimmerman pushed aside his lingering shoulder issues for a day, however, collecting two hits and an RBI in four at bats.
The Nationals also have accomplished it with one of the youngest rosters in the majors, a jumbled bullpen and meager offense.
Statistically, the Nationals starting rotation is the best in baseball. Their bullpen, has been strong as well, despite injuries that claimed its closer, its backup closer and a trusted reliever for some or all of the season so far. They have little room for error with an offense that is among the lowest-scoring in the majors.
Carrying a 1-0 lead into the eighth inning, a frame that has been carefree for the Nationals behind reliever Sean Burnett, the Nationals collapsed. In four pitches from the left-hander, Adam Jones reached base on a single to right field. Two pitches later, Matt Wieters crushed a slider into the centerfield bullpen for all the Orioles runs.
That erased a strong performance from left-hander Ross Detwiler, who was making his first start since he was inserted into the starting rotation for the second time this season. Detwiler showed renewed aggressiveness, which had previously eluded him, and cost him a starting spot. Detwiler attacked hitters, working through three innings with just 39 pitches. The four hits he gave up werenít hit hard.
Detwiler ran into trouble in the fourth and fifth innings, perhaps because he hadnít thrown this many pitches since his last start on May 25. But he escaped both jams without yielding a run, stranding five runners. In the fifth, Adam Jones barely missed on a slider that he drove to the warning track in left field for an out.
The Nationals earned their only run of the day ó and on many days, a one-run lead has been enough ó on an RBI single from the the slumping Zimmerman in the third inning.
Nationals Manager Davey Johnson has stuck with Zimmerman, despite the nagging shoulder injury that already has landed the third baseman on the disabled list once this season, figuring that even an injured Zimmerman would help the team.
Zimmerman said his injured shoulder hasnít affected his defense but has slowed down his bat, making him look foolish swinging at fastballs he has never missed before. He kept grinding and grinding away, hoping something would click, despite the discomfort in his right shoulder joint. Still, he may wind up on the disabled list if the ongoing treatment doesnít improve his shoulder.
Little-used backup catcher Jhonatan Solano started the third inning by smacking a double into the right field corner, his third extra base hit in only his 14th at-bat of the season. Steve Lombardozzi was hit by a pitch and Solano advanced to third base when rookie Bryce Harper grounded into a double play, Harperís first in 213 major league at-bats.
Zimmerman strode to the plate with a chance to give the Nationals a lead with two outs. On a 3-1 pitch, Zimmerman smacked a sharp line drive into left field for single, driving in his first run in 12 games.
But the Nationals would later strand runner after runner, failing to support their pitcher. - Washington Post