Getting defensive

Today's day off for the Nationals comes at a pretty good time.

Not only does it allow Adam LaRoche, who sat out the last two games, a chance to rest his sore back a bit more prior to tomorrow's series opener with the White Sox, but it also gives the Nats a chance to enjoy some down time and put their three-game series in Cincinnati behind them.

Even though they took one of the three games against the Reds in the weekend set, this was a series the Nationals will be hoping to forget.

The Nats were outscored 27-10 over the last three days. They were outhit 43-23. The Nationals made six errors to the Reds' none.

Washington's relievers allowed 12 earned runs in the series. Cincinnati's allowed three.

In the bandbox that is the Great American Ballpark, the Nats didn't pitch well, they largely struggled offensively (with the exception of their five-homer day on Saturday) and their defense was mediocre at best.

This is a team, after all, that was expected to be one of the better defensive teams in the league this season. They brought back Gold Glover LaRoche to round out an infield filled with talented, strong-armed defensive players who the Nats hope have put various health issues behind them.

In the outfield, Denard Span's addition allowed the Nats to move Bryce Harper to left field, giving them what they felt like would be one of the top defensive outfields in baseball. Span, Harper and Jayson Werth all can cover a lot of ground, and their speed should allow them to be more aggressive in their positioning, which the Nats hope will result in fewer balls that drop down the lines and fewer extra bases surrendered.

Through six games, the Nationals have made a number of impressive plays defensively, but they've also made a surprising number of miscues.

The Nats have made seven errors thus far this season, tied with the White Sox for the most in baseball. Their .970 fielding percentage ranks 30th among the 30 major league teams.

Ian Desmond has four errors early on in the season. Bryce Harper, Kurt Suzuki and Chad Tracy all have one.

Last season, the Nats made the eighth-fewest errors in baseball. Their fielding percentage was .985, and that was with a career first baseman (Tyler Moore) and a career second baseman (Steve Lombardozzi) getting significant time in left field.

This season, the defense has surprisingly been one of the negatives through the first two series. Yesterday, the Nats only committed one error, but Danny Espinosa also made a key defensive miscue by throwing home with runners on the corners in a tie game, leading to a three-run sixth inning.

Is it rust? Is it early-season jitters or just not feeling completely comfortable in meaningful games just yet?

It's hard to say. The good news is that it would be a surprise to see these issues linger. The Nats are too talented defensively for their play in the field to remain this poor.

Yes, Desmond committed 34 errors three seasons ago, but that number has decreased each season since then and was cut all the way down to 15 errors last year. There's no reason to believe that Desmond can't turn things around and get back to the solid defensive player that he was in 2012.

Harper still needs to learn to hit the cutoff man in crucial situations, but his aggressive nature in the field is part of what makes him a special player. It seems like for every defensive mistake Harper makes, he also has one of his jaw-dropping plays which end up making highlight reels.

The Nats haven't looked sharp in the field through the first six games. There are still 156 games left to go, however, and with the group general manager Mike Rizzo has assembled, you'd think it would only be a matter of time before the level of play defensively picks up.

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