Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Ryan Zimmerman went 5-for-8 today and even singled on this dribbler in the nightcap.
And at the end of a long day of baseball at Coors Field, the Nationals had nothing to show for it but a couple of losses.
"That's the hardest part," Sean Burnett said. "You play two ballgames and you go up against one of the best pitchers in baseball and you battle ... it's tough to lose both. It would have been nice to get at least one out of there. It's a tough way to lose the second one."
It's easy to chalk up the matinee 6-2 loss to Jimenez's continued brilliance on the mound. The flamethrowing right-hander is now 7-1 with a 1.12 ERA, having twice beaten Livan Hernandez.
The 4-3 loss in the nightcap, however, is a little tougher to swallow. The Nationals turned Jason Hammel (0-2 with a 9.16 ERA entering) into a quality big-league starter, scoring only three runs over seven innings, failing to draw a walk and striking out seven times. They wasted a decent start from Luis Atilano (three runs in five innings, all scoring on back-to-back homers in the third) and some strong relief from Burnett and Tyler Walker. And they wasted a 5-for-8 day from Ryan Zimmerman and a two-homer day from Adam Dunn.
If anything, the Nats dropped the finale in large part to a fabulous play by Ian Desmond ... who still was charged with an error in the process.
With the game tied 3-3 in the seventh and Rockies backup catcher Paul Phillips standing on third with two out, Seth Smith hit a sharp hopper back up the middle. Burnett stuck his glove up and partially deflected the ball, but it still bounced past second base and seemingly into center field for the go-ahead single.
And then Desmond came charging over from shortstop to make a lunging stab. He fired an off-balance throw to first, and even though it bounced, the ball wound up in Dunn's glove, with Smith still three steps from reaching the base. And then it fell out of Dunn's glove.
Smith was safe at first. Phillips was safe at the plate. And the Nationals now trailed by the eventual final score of 4-3.
Because Desmond had time to make the throw, he was charged with the error. Asked if he would anything differently if he had a chance to try that play again, the rookie insisted he wouldn't.
"No, I would do the same thing over and over again," he said. "I think I make that play 9 times out of 10. ... I've got to throw that ball to his chest. That's what he's there for. He's there to catch the ball in the air, not to dig it out of the ground."
For his part, Dunn took the blame for dropping what he felt was a throw he should have corralled.
"Huge spot, and that's something I've been working on," the converted outfielder said. "If I had one thing I would say I'm decent at at first base, that's what I would say: that play. That's very frustrating, because [Desmond] made a great play."
Poor defensive play or not, that one error alone didn't cost the Nationals victory. If Desmond makes the throw or Dunn makes the catch, the game's still tied, and the Nats' lineup put up little fight over the final three innings. Only one of their final 10 batters reached safely.
These, though, are the kind of games this team has been playing all season. Aside from the occasional blowout like Thursday's 14-6 win, every game has been nip-and-tuck. One at-bat, one play, one mistake can make all the difference.
And when you come up short twice in one day, the effect is more dramatic. Just like that, the Nationals went from five games over .500 to desperately needing a win Sunday to avoid their longest losing streak of the young season.
"I'm not disheartened at all," Jim Riggleman said. "We played good baseball. We really played good. They played good. We played good. I can't get disheartened about that."
Maybe so. But for a club that has suddenly convinced itself (and its fans) it can win every time it takes the field, a doubleheader sweep is a tough pill to swallow.