|Jayson Werth symbolizes the Nationals offensive struggles thus far in 2011. (C.Nichols/Nats News Network)|
The Washington Nationals have the lowest batting average and on-base percentage in the National League. They have struggled all season to score runs, and Saturday's 1-0 loss to the Florida Marlins was no exception. The Nats were limited to four hits and three walks by Anibal Sanchez and Leo Nunez in another dominating pitching performance against them.
In fact, the Nationals only managed one fly ball out all afternoon; everything else was on the ground, a strike out or an infield pop up.
The loss drop sthe Nats to 18-21, last place in the N.L. East pending the New York Mets result with Houston Saturday night.
The Nats had their chances though, especially in the later innings. In both the seventh and ninth innings, Jayson Werth led off, got on base safely, and reached second with no outs, only to be stranded both times.
In the seventh, Werth doubled off Sanchez to get things going. But Laynce Nix struck out and Adam LaRoche rolled a weak ground ball to second that moved Werth over to third. After a five-pitch walk to Wilson Ramos, Jerry Hairston grounded to third on the first pitch of the at bat to end the threat.
The ninth inning failure was even worse.
Werth drew a walk against N.L. saves leader Nunez and moved up to second on Nix' single to right. LaRoche then hit a slow chopper to third that Greg Dobbs gobbled up and forced Nix at second, so the Nats had the tying run at third in the bottom of the ninth with just one out. But Ramos lunged at the first pitch he saw, an 84-MPH slider, and popped out softly behind the bag at first. Jerry Hairston needed just two pitches to fly out to left to end the game.
After the game, most of the questions for manager Jim Riggleman were about his team's lack of firepower.
Was Riggleman disappointed or upset in his team's approach at the plate, especially late in the game?
"I never get into any of that, the mechanics of hitting. To me, there's so many things that contradict themselves in the game. The first pitch strike is the highest average in baseball so if you take a strike, is that the way right way to go? If you make an out on the first pitch certainly it can be perceived as 'What was your hurry?' or get a better pitch.
But, you know what, that's all hindsight. I got no problems with anybody's approach, the way they're going about it, as long as they keep a positive attitude about it and just keep getting after it the way they are and don't accept it. Don't accept the level that we're at offensively right now, keep pushing to get better."
What did Riggleman think about his team's attitude or confidence in the dugout?
"You'd be surprised. The energy level, the confidence in the dugout has not wavered. The guys are just doing everything they can. Looking at tape, they're getting extra work, doing everything they can to come out of this.
We're running into some good pitching, which in the National League East you're just, that's the way it's going to be. The National League East has got really good pitching -- including ours. To answer your question 'What's the feeling in the dugout?', the feeling is positive in the dugout. Nobody has ever wavered from that."
What did Riggleman think about the team's early season struggles?
"I don't ever really get into that anyway. I don't think it's early now, I don't think it was early three weeks ago. The schedule says it's early but every game is a big game. Every at bat, you're striving to have a good at bat and you're trying to come out of any struggles that you're in and that's what our players do.
Whether it's early or late, whatever the case is, every game counts the same on the schedule. Like I said, I stick by our players. They're doing everything they can. The work they put in, you can't exceed that. They do what you can do to get ready to go have good at bats.
They go out there and they battle and as I've said, I'm proud to be a part of them."
Riggleman was stoic in his defense of his players. He said on the first-pitch swing Hairston took in the seventh that he "just missed his ball." I suppose you have to credit the manager for protecting his players and keeping a positive attitude when the team is having such a hard time being productive. Riggleman continues to describe how much effort his team is putting forth, and that's probably a testament to the quality of people that GM Mike Rizzo assembled this season.
At some point soon for the Nationals though, production has to outweigh effort. Their $126 million man has to start hitting. Their free agent first baseman, a notorious slow starter, has to fill his yearly consistent production. Their rookies need to learn patience.
Because Riggleman's right, it isn't early any more. We're a quarter of the way through the season and the Nats are only three games below .500. They've now lost three imminently winnable one-run games in a row. After such a positive road trip, where they went 4-5, the last three games have shown signs of cracking under the pressure and stress of the buildup of offensive futility.
They need to figure things out, because there isn't any help coming from the minors. Now that Bernadina's here, presumably for the future, there really just isn't any other hitter down at Syracuse ready to step up and help the big club. No, the guys wearing the uniform today have to figure things out for themselves.
Because, sooner or later, the lack of offensive production is going to catch up with this team. You can't win over the course of the season hitting .225 as a team.
NATS NOTES: Reliever Cole Kimball made his Major League debut Saturday, throwing a scoreless ninth inning in a one-run ballgame. He struck out Gaby Sanchez with a couple of curveballs, got Logan Morrison to line out to second, walked Mike Stanton on a diet of breaking stuff and coaxed a lazy fly ball to left from Greg Dobbs. [Photos]
|Cole Kimball made his MLB debut for the Nats in the ninth inning. (C.Nichols/Nats News Network)|
Henry Rodriguez struck out both batters he faced in the eighth inning without incident.
Livan Hernandez threw another beauty. He went seven innings and allowed just one run, Stanton's mammoth shot to the Red Porch restaurant. He gave up six hits and two walks total, striking out four. Livo also reached a career milestone of 3,000 innings pitched.
It was also Pups in the Park day. [Photos]
It was also Pups in the Park day. [Photos]
|Jayson Werth dives back to first safely against Marlins. (C/Nichols/Nats News Network)|
|Cole Kimball delivers in his Major League debut. (C.Nichols/Nats News Network)|
|Laynce Nix looks for a kid to toss the ball to at the end of an inning. (C.Nichols/Nats News Network)|