ST. LOUIS - The Champagne celebration won’t take place on this road trip.
The Nationals came into today needing only a win or a Braves loss to pop open the bubbly as NL East champions, but they fell behind 5-0 after two innings and 7-0 after three, and then let the Cardinals put up two big tack-on runs in the bottom of the fourth to turn a 7-4 game back into a comfortable five-run lead.
Ross Detwiler gave up seven runs (three of which were earned) over 2 1/3 innings. He struggled in finding the strike zone, putting himself in hitters’ counts, and allowed a season-high five walks.
“Well, obviously it was a little rough outing for Det,” manager Davey Johnson said. “I took him out at 80 pitches. I didn’t want him throwing 90 pitches in three innings. He’s got too good of a future, and I need him in the postseason. Just another bad outing early.
“He was throwing (instead of pitching). He didn’t use all his pitches. He’s been in a bad habit of doing that occasionally. He uses the two-seamer away and actually quit going in. He just didn’t pitch.”
Detwiler wasn’t helped out by a Danny Espinosa fielding error in the five-run second inning, which blew what could have been an easy 4-6-3 double play. Instead of having a runner at third and two outs, the Cardinals had the bases loaded with none out after the error, and then four unearned runs came around to score.
“We’ve had a couple (defensive) plays, a couple on (Edwin) Jackson and that one there. But the pitcher’s got to pick him up,” Johnson said. “We’ve just got to make pitches, pick him up. Our defense has been second-to-none. Can’t fault the defense. Danny peeked a little bit, didn’t catch the ball and take it out.”
Johnson was asked about his decision to go to Chien-Ming Wang in relief of Detwiler in the third inning when the Nats trailed 5-0.
“Well, he pitched last time pretty good,” Johnson said. “And I really don’t want to burn (Craig) Stammen up, go to him and burn him up for three innings. We’re down, you know, runs. So that’s the only reason. I didn’t really want to use Stammen.”
Wang struggled in that third inning, throwing back-to-back wild pitches on the first two pitches he threw, which plated a run and led to another. Johnson then could have pinch-hit for Wang in the fourth with a runner on and two outs, but he let the veteran right-hander bat for himself and then sent him out to pitch the bottom of the fourth. Wang allowed two runs in that inning and retired just one batter before Johnson brought in Stammen.
Johnson admitted he thought about pinch-hitting for Wang, but instead of trying to pounce on Cardinals starter Lance Lynn, who allowed four runs in the fourth prior to Wang’s at-bat, Johnson hoped to have Wang eat a couple more innings.
“I was hoping to get a little more out of him and save my ‘pen,” Johnson said. “I don’t try to put my best foot forward when we’re down. And then of course we score (four) and of course he gives up the home run and that was another crushing blow.”
Detwiler has now had two straight clunkers, and Jackson had one two days ago, but Johnson doesn’t see these outings affecting how he’ll lay out his postseason rotation.
“It’s not really the time I want to see it,” Johnson said. “But they’ve been so good, I’m not worried about it. I don’t have a doghouse.”
The Nats didn’t clinch the division on this six-game road trip, but now they’ll have three shots to do it at home in the district.
“We’ve had rough outings before and come back good. We’ll be fine,” Johnson said. “And I like clinching at home in front of the home fans. That’s nice.”