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Nationals fall in Harper's home debut

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Sports,MLB,Nationals,Kevin Dunleavy
Washington drops fifth game in a row

With Bryce Harper making his Washington debut, it was the dawning of a new era Tuesday night at Nationals Park. But even the 19-year-old phenom couldn't spark the anemic offense of the Nats. Mustering just six hits off Arizona Diamondbacks right-hander Trevor Cahill and two relievers, Washington fell 5-1, extending its losing streak to five games before 22,675.

Despite the much-anticipated debut of Harper, it was a quiet night for the rookie, who went 0-for-3 and contributed to the woes of an offense that has produced just 25 hits and seven runs in the last five games.

"I got chills going out to left field the first time," Harper said. "I went into my first at-bat really excited, chased a few pitches I shouldn't have."

Harper, however, provided the most excitement of the night. From medium-deep left field in the seventh inning, he unleashed a laser of a throw which reached catcher Wilson Ramos on the fly, nearly beating John McDonald, who scored from third on Justin Upton's sacrifice fly.

"I mean it was fantastic," shortstop Ian Desmond said. "He's got a cannon."

In the ninth inning with Harper due to bat fourth and fans hoping to see him at the plate one more time, the Nats went down in order, as closer David Hernandez fanned Jayson Werth and Danny Espinosa for the final two outs.

On his first trip to the plate, after receiving a standing ovation, Harper was fooled twice by Cahill change-ups that were out of the strike zone. Harper hit hard ground balls his next two trips, but right at Arizona infielders. Fans groaned in the fifth inning when Harper's shot up the middle was surprisingly fielded by shortstop John McDonald.

"I was pretty upset. I hit a ball through [the pitcher's] legs," Harper said. "I haven't seen a shift since almost in college."

In what has become a continuing theme for Nats right-hander Jordan Zimmermann (1-2), he got little support from his offense. But for the first time this year, he wasn't blameless, as he yielded eight hits and four runs (three earned) in his least inspired performance of 2012.

"He got a little tired late. The ball started coming up," Nats manager Davey Johnson said.

After throwing zeroes at Arizona (12-11) in the first four innings, Zimmermann started to struggle. In the fifth, he yielded a run-scoring single to McDonald which scored Paul Goldschmidt, who had reached second on an infield hit and a throwing error on the play by Desmond. In the sixth, Zimmermann gave up a ringing, two-out, RBI double to right to Miguel Montero. In the seventh, Zimmerman gave up two solid singles and an intentional walk, leaving the game with the bases loaded. Reliever Ryan Mattheus hit Aaron Hill with a pitch to force in a run, and Upton followed with his sacrifice fly.

The Nats (14-9), who still remained in the first place in the NL East as Atlanta lost to Philadelphia, got their lone run in the eighth on a double by pinch-hitter Roger Bernadina and a single by Desmond (2-for-4).

"We just gotta get it going. We got one guy hot, another guy hot. We gotta get everyone hot," Desmond said. "I think it's contagious. I think sooner or later we're gonna take off."

kdunleavy@washingtonexaminer.com

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