Nationals' bullpen fails to hold on in loss to Orioles

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Photo - Patrick Semansky/Ap
Nationals relief pitcher Sean Burnett allowed a two-run home run to Matt Wieters in the eighth.
Patrick Semansky/Ap Nationals relief pitcher Sean Burnett allowed a two-run home run to Matt Wieters in the eighth.
Sports,MLB,Nationals,Orioles,Kevin Dunleavy

Burnett allows late HR in defeat

On Sunday morning, Nationals manager Davey Johnson declared his former setup man, Tyler Clippard, his closer. On Sunday afternoon, it was clear how much Johnson misses the right-hander in his previous role.

With Sean Burnett serving up a two-run home run in the eighth inning to Matt Wieters, Washington fell to the revitalized Baltimore Orioles 2-1 before 41,794 at Orioles Park at Camden Yards.

Burnett had been stellar this year, pitching to an ERA of 1.04 and emerging as a setup man. In nine hold situations since Clippard took over as closer May 22, Burnett had been perfect. But Sunday was perhaps his most difficult test as the left-hander entered with a 1-0 lead, having to face the right-handed hitting middle of the Orioles' lineup.

After Adam Jones lined a single to right, Wieters drove a waist-high 1-0 pitch into the Orioles' bullpen in left-center for his 10th home run of the year.

"I tried to go with my strength and left a pitch out over the plate to a good hitter, and he made me pay," Burnett said. "I left it up a little bit. He put some wood on it."

Despite injuries to Brad Lidge (who has since been designated for assignment), Henry Rodriguez and 2011 closer Drew Storen, the Nats' bullpen had performed brilliantly. Sunday was just the third time in 37 occasions the Nats lost after entering the eighth inning with a lead.

With their offense sputtering, however, the margin for error for the Nats has been thin, and the bullpen has been increasingly stressed. Burnett was pitching on roughly 18 hours' rest after contributing a scoreless inning of relief Saturday night in a 3-1 win over the Orioles. Burnett's last eight outings all have been back-to-back appearances.

"I've gone back-to-back with him. Things are getting a little more regular here in the future," Johnson said of the impending return of Storen and Rodriguez.

It wasn't all bad news for the Nats (41-29), who got five scoreless innings of four-hit ball from left-hander Ross Detwiler in his return to the rotation after four productive weeks in the bullpen. Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman broke out of a slump, going 2-for-4 and knocking in the Nats' lone run with a solid single to left in the third inning.

Zimmerman, who entered the game hitting .218, admitted to soreness in his right shoulder Saturday night and hinted that a trip to the disabled list might be necessary. But on Sunday, Zimmerman received a cortisone shot.

"It took some of that pain and that pressure away that's been bugging me for the past however long," Zimmerman said. "It's not something you want to get in the habit of doing, but it's better than missing time."

In taking the series, which drew 133,983 fans, the Orioles (41-31) got six innings of five-hit ball from starter Jake Arrieta and three innings of one-hit work from their dependable bullpen. Pedro Strop (4-2) got the win and closer Jim Johnson notched his 22nd save as Baltimore improved to 31-0 in games they led after eight innings.

kdunleavy@washingtonexaminer.com

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