Friday night, the Washington Nationals got out to a decent lead against a struggling middle-of-the-pack team and their journeyman starting pitcher.  Unfortunately, the offense stopped hitting and the bullpen imploded again, leading to a 7-5 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers before 34,822 at Miller Park.

The Nats got out to a 5-1 lead in the top of the fourth inning on the strength of two Michael Morse home runs and a Ryan Zimmerman single.  Morse is now hitting .338 for the season with six home runs. 

I'm not one of the legions of fans calling for Morse to be the every day right fielder because I think he'd be exposed playing every day.  And he's not a great fielder, evidenced by his awkward attempt to play Corey Hart's drive in the first inning that turned into a triple, then scored for the first Brewers run of the game.

But this team has a much different feel to it when he's in the lineup.  He looks -- and so far this season hits -- like a No. 6 hitter.

So what happened to the lead?

Well, for starters, Craig Stammen couldn't get the bottom of the Brewers order out.  With two outs, he gave up a hit to .252 hitting No. 8 hitter Alcides Escobar.  Then, whether it was a mistake with the defensive signs or just poor managing, first baseman Adam Dunn played behind Escobar at first, and the speedy shortstop took second base.  The offical scorer refused to give Escobar a stolen base, scoring the play "defensive indifference".

Of course, Brewers starter Chris Narveson, who is a decent hitter in his own right (.296), slapped a single to center field, scoring Escobar after he took the free base.

Stammen then walked Rickie Weeks on five pitches -- moving Narveson up to second.  Jim Edmonds -- only in the game because Hart ran into an outfield ball and hurt his hand -- drilled a ball to left center to plate the pitcher.

All with two outs.

Stammen finished his night going five innings, giving up three earned runs on five hits and one walk, striking out three.  He threw just 90 pithces, 54 for strikes.

Leading 5-3, Manager Jim Riggleman brought in Tyler Clippard for the sixth inning.  Clippard got two outs, sneaking a fastball past Prince Fielder and getting rookie catcher Jonathan Lucroy to fly to right, but not before walking third baseman Casey McGahee.

Speedster Carlos Gomez drilled a line drive to center field on his first pitch, an 89 MPH fastball, scoring McGahee and sliding in safe at third for a triple.  Clippard then threw an 80 MPH change up right down the middle of the plate to Escobar, who deposited the offering into left field for a double, scoring Gomez and tying the game at five.

Again, all with two outs.

The team insists Clippard is not hurt, but his fastball only registered in the upper 80s Friday night, down from 94 MPH earlier when he was humming, and he has stopped throwing his curveball altogether, a pitch he used to rely on 8-10% of the time.

Whether he's hiding an injury, or just plain old struggling, Clippard has allowed more earned runs than innings pitched in July.

Here's where things got squirrelly, though.  Riggleman really wanted Clippard to get through the inning, since the pitcher's spot was due up second in the seventh.  Since the underperforming righty gave up extra-base hits on his last two pitches, Riggleman really had little choice but to go get him. 

He called on Sean Burnett, but insisted on making a double-switch to avoid "wasting" Burnett for one batter and having to pinch-hit for him the next inning.  Riggleman inserted Roger Bernadina into right field, lifting Morse, the man responsible for four of the Nats five runs.

It's not uncommon for Riggleman to make a defensive replacement with a double-switch, but it was strange to make the move in the sixth inning, and removing his hottest hitter.

Burnett got out of the sixth, but Riggleman's move backfired in the seventh more than just removing a potent bat from the order.  Burnett walked the leadoff hitter in the seventh, then gave up a two-run home run to lefty Edmonds, the man Riggleman wanted Burnett to face all along. 

Just like that, a 5-1 lead turned into a 7-5 deficit.

Two batters later, Burnett gave up a double to left-hander Prince Fielder, thus ending his evening.  Joel Peralta came in to throw 1 2/3 scoreless to hold things, but the Nats hitters couldn't muster a comeback against the Brewers bullpen.

In fact, the Nats offense managed just one hit and no walks after completing their scoring in the fourth inning.

Perhaps a quote from the Brewers Jim Edmonds (courtesy of after the game says it best to sum up this one up, a game the Brewers didn't win as much as the Nats lost it.

"Their starting pitcher did a great job," Edmonds said. "Don't know why they took him out so early, but he definitely was doing a good job of moving the ball around and keeping people off balance. Sometimes when you can get a guy like that out of the game, things start to look up. That's what happened for us today."