The long-term prospects of the Washington Nationals have never been brighter. Pitcher Stephen Strasburg is among baseball's elite, leading a staff with the most electric stuff in the majors. Outfielder Bryce Harper has eased concerns that his promotion to the big leagues was premature, providing a spectacular glimpse into the future.
But amid the celebratory atmosphere of Harper making his Nationals Park debut Tuesday night, there is short-term angst. Washington has lost four straight games, and Ryan Zimmerman again is on the disabled list. In his absence, the offense has been so anemic that the losing skid has coincided with a streak of eight straight quality starts.
A staff that leads the major leagues in ERA (2.33), strikeouts (195), opponents' batting average (.203) and home runs (six) should be immune to losing streaks. But there is mounting pressure as Washington (14-8) opens a three-game series against Arizona (11-11).
|Diamondbacks at Nationals|
|Trevor Cahill (1-2) vs. Jordan Zimmermann (1-1)|
|When » Tuesday, 7:05 p.m.|
|Where » Nationals Park|
|TV » MASN|
Tuesday's starter, Jordan Zimmermann (1-1), typifies the frustration of the Nats. He has little to show for his four quality starts and stellar numbers: 27 innings, 17 hits, two walks, a 1.33 ERA and a 0.70 WHIP, third best in the majors.
Nats manager Davey Johnson sounded a familiar refrain Sunday after the Dodgers completed a three-game sweep with a 2-0 victory.
"We pitched good enough to win," he told reporters. "It just wasn't good enough."
Lefty Chris Capuano and two relievers fanned 14 and limited Washington to four hits Sunday. After winning seven straight games in which they scored three or fewer runs, the Nats have lost their last four, scoring a total of six runs and batting .147.
"They kept the ball in on us the whole series, and we really didn't make a lot of adjustments," Johnson said. "I guess the scouting report obviously is to crowd us. We need to get active in there."
The lineup Johnson fielded Sunday included three rookies and players at the No. 3 and No. 5 holes who are scuffling. Danny Espinosa (.205) is 2-for-15 during the skid. Xavier Nady (.130) is hitless in his last 11 at bats. Scratching Jayson Werth (migranes) on Sunday took a solid bat out of the lineup. Over the weekend, Mark DeRosa (oblique strain) joined Zimmerman on the DL. He had only one hit in his last 21 at-bats.
Other Nats in the throes of a slump are Jesus Flores (hitless in his last 15 at-bats) and Ian Desmond (1-for-17 during the losing streak). With increased playing time, Chad Tracy (1-for-20) and Steve Lombardozzi (1-for-18) have been exposed.
Adam LaRoche is the only Nats hitter who had a productive road trip, going 10-for-23 with a pair of home runs in San Diego and Los Angeles. He is Washington's runaway leader in batting (.329), home runs (four) and RBI (17).
Making the most news in Los Angeles, however, was Harper, who made a brilliant throw from left on Saturday and a circus catch in center on Sunday. The 19-year-old also has shown rare discipline at the plate, going 1-for-3 in each of his first two big league games.