ATLANTA - The Nationals know they’re a talented team. They know they’re better than what their 13-14 record indicates.
So why is their play slacking? Why the 0-5 record against the Braves? What can’t this team do that needs to be done right now?
“I feel like we can, we’re just not,” said Ian Desmond, who went around to a number of players after the game to have brief one-on-one chats with them. “I mean, everyone’s trying to do better for the team, but I feel like you have to put yourself aside and start playing for the team. You know what I mean?
“We’ve got to throw the ball over the plate, we’ve got to hit strikes and we’ve got to field the ball. That’s what it boils down to. It’s not about what your numbers are in April, it’s not about what the record is in April. But at some point, you’ve got to jell as a team and start playing as a team.”
So is it that guys are trying to do too much, a theory that Davey Johnson has vocalized at times?
“I don’t think it’s trying to do too much,” Desmond said. “I think it’s trying to do your best. Sometimes good is just good enough. If everyone is just good, we’re a really good ballclub. Everyone at their best, we’re an excellent ballclub. But not everyone’s gonna be at their best every day. You have to be good more than you’re bad, and excellent sometimes.
“I think everyone knows it, but we want to win so bad and everyone wants to do their best, that it just takes time. This game humbles you no matter who you are. And it humbles the best teams, it humbles the worst teams at some point during the year. Unfortunately for us, we’re going through it right now, but we’ll bounce back.”
The Nats’ issues have been most visible in their five games against the Braves. They’ve been outscored 29-8 in those contests, out-hit 48-29 and drawn just eight walks, compared to Atlanta’s 27.
“They’re a good ballclub. Tim Hudson’s a great pitcher,” Desmond said. “They’re hitting the ball well. We’re not. Just a matter of time before we figure it out. Hopefully it’s sooner than later. But it’d be nice to get it going.”
The Nationals have repeated the “it’s still early” refrain throughout these last couple of weeks, and with April just now wrapping up, it’s something they’ll continue to preach, with 135 games remaining on the schedule.
“I really don’t care. That’s just me, I guess,” Bryce Harper said. “It’s something that we gotta battle through. It’s April. Everybody keeps saying that but I believe that we’re still going and (Ryan Zimmerman) comes back in the lineup soon.”
“The last I checked, we’re still in April, right?” Gio Gonzalez said. “It’s a long season, man. Things can change. I’m not going to stress it. I know these guys aren’t going to stress it. They’re trying their best. I’m trying my best. It’s not like we’re going out there trying to give up 5-6 runs. We’re going there and trying to hit the strike zone and make the best out of it.
“You think I want to go out there and give a team like that six runs, especially a team like that? They’ll make you pay for it. It’s just one of those things. April, it’s a slow start for us. But once we turn it around, it’s going to be a big change.”
Gonzalez, meanwhile, had a hard time describing what went wrong for him during tonight’s start. He struck out nine Braves - a season high - but also walked five and gave up seven hits. Most of those hits were very well-struck.
“One of those things you just can’t explain,” Gonzalez said. “They see the ball pretty good, and then all of a sudden they’re swinging and missing. If you can find the answer, I’d be more than happy to listen. Because I would love to find it right now myself.
“You’ve just got to throw (this start) away. It’s one of those things where you try to look at the positives. I felt like I was attacking the zone and they were finding hits. Just one of those things where it seems like they’re seeing the ball good. I guess we’ll find out what it is. I’ve got to make the adjustment, sit down with (pitching coach Steve McCatty) and we’ll go over it. But hey, they’re playing good baseball. We’ve got to just find a way to get a win.”