Nats put rough stretch in perspective

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Beanballs,Sports,Kevin Dunleavy

Getting swept at home by the National League East rival Atlanta Braves was one thing. But getting the same treatment from a team that knocked the Nationals out of the postseason in gut-wrenching fashion last October is quite another. Wednesday’s 4-2 loss to St. Louis completed a three-game sweep by the Cardinals in which the Nats scored a combined four runs.

“You have to bring that up?” joked Nats manager Davey Johnson when asked about the emotional scars that Washington wanted to erase this week. “I’m more concerned with how everybody’s playing. We’re just not doing things we’re capable of doing right now. It’ll change. Gonna have to jumble things up a little bit. Try to light a fire.”

Bad timing had something to do with Washington’s loss on Wednesday. When Jayson Werth came up in the sixth inning with two on and none out, he hit an accidental, check-swing bouncer to the mound. Two innings later, when he came to bat with nobody on, Werth rifled a home run to left.

In the seventh inning, when Steve Lombardozzi pinch hit with two on and one out, Johnson had catcher Jhonatan Solano running from first base. But Lombardozzi, with normally excellent bat control (53 career strikeouts in 472 at-bats), fanned and Solano was thrown out stealing for an inning-ending double play.

“He always makes contact – just a microcosm,” Johnson said.

Among the Nats struggling most are infielders Danny Espinosa (.155), who has three hits in his last 28 at-bats, Ian Desmond (.272), who has five hits in his last 32 trips, and Adam LaRoche (.169), who is hitless in his last 11 at-bats with eight strikeouts. Since his call-up from the minors to replace Ryan Zimmerman, third baseman Anthony Rendon is hitting .133.

Johnson said Lombardozzi (.345) is likely to be near the top of the lineup on Thursday, presumably at the No. 2 spot. When asked if Lombardozzi would play second base, Johnson said probably not. With Rendon having difficulty, third base is a likely option. While second baseman Espinosa has often struggled making contact, he has fanned a respectable 10 times in 58 at-bats this season. On Wednesay he whiffed once, flew to deep center, and hit two solid ground balls.

Espinosa politely disagreed with a questioner who asked if his struggles were “mental or mechanic.”

“I don’t think it’s either. I think I’ve hit the ball pretty well,” Espinosa said. “It’s a good feeling knowing I’m still making hard contact, making contact, putting the ball in play. So there is a positive to take out of it.”

Werth said that the season’s high expectations have had something to do with the slow start.

“We’ve been pressing. We’ve been trying to do too much. It’s a common side effect,” Werth said. “Somebody said last night it feels like we’re 0-20. But it’s not that bad. We’re one game under .500. It’s April. We’ll be alright. What we’re going through right now, it’s the first time this team has dealt with expectations … There’s a learning curve.”

Werth compared the start to the one made by the Phillies in 2008. The team started 9-10 before catching fire, finishing with 92 wins, and going 11-3 in a dominant postseason run to a World Series title.

“Last year is really all we’ve got to go back to,” Werth said. “I think we started off hot last year.”

After losing for the ninth time in their last 12 games, the Nats (10-11) will try to snap out it Thursday night against the Reds (12-9) who will pitch Bronson Arroyo (2-1, 3.54). Gio Gonzalez (1-1, 5.85) pitches for Washington.

Kdunleavy@washingtonexaminer.com

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