Johnson: “We just need to man up”

PITTSBURGH - The Nationals struck out 14 times in tonight’s 3-1 loss to the Pirates. Seven of those 14 were looking.

They scored one run, marking the 11th time in 13 games that they’ve had three or fewer runners cross the plate. They’re currently sixth-worst in the majors in runs scored.

This is a Nationals club that feels it has the talent to be one of the top offensive teams in the league. It’s just not happening right now.

“I think we’re kind of hitting rock bottom,” Johnson said. “We just need to man up. Let’s go. Let’s start doing things we’re capable of doing. The ones that get me are the called ones, the called strikeouts. ...

“We’re not hitting balls early in the count. Obviously (Pirates starter A.J. Burnett) had a fastball that was coming back over the plate. Guys were giving up on balls away. He’s pitching left-handers in. We’ve got to make adjustments. We’ve got a lot better hitters than we’re showing. It’s frustrating.”

Ryan Zimmerman got stuck with the dreaded golden sombrero tonight, striking out in all four at-bats in his first game off the disabled list. Given that this was Zimmerman’s first taste of major league pitching in more than two weeks, Johnson can brush his third baseman’s performance off fairly easily. But it’s the approach of his hitters as a group that has the Nats’ skipper frustrated.

“(Zimmerman’s) awfully rusty. But he’ll be fine,” Johnson said. “It’s been more of an issue with us. We’ve got good hitters, but we are striking out more than we should. I don’t know if it’s not being aggressive enough early in the count. Desi (Ian Desmond) is certainly aggressive early in the count, and he’s been striking out a bunch. We’re not making them throw it over the plate. We’re trying to make too much happen.”

The Nats struck out three times in the ninth, all looking. Tyler Moore and Danny Espinosa both came up representing the tying run and got left with the bat on their shoulder.

This team went through similar offensive struggles last season at this time, but Johnson didn’t expect to see similar issues pop up again this time around.

“Guys are more mature, better hitters,” Johnson said. “They know what they need to do.”

Johnson has made a bunch of lineup changes recently, but with Jayson Werth out a few days with a hamstring injury, his options are limited at the moment.

“There’s not a whole lot of changes I can make,” Johnson said. “We’ll see a couple left-handers (the next two games). Jayson Werth, I can’t go there. We’ve got the right guys. We just got to start doing a better job. It’s simple as that.”

Ross Detwiler allowed three runs over five innings tonight - far from an awful outing - but he wasn’t at his best. Johnson sent Detwiler out for the sixth inning, but when he walked Russell Martin on five pitches leading off the frame, Johnson had seen enough.

He pulled Detwiler after just 84 pitches, his second-lowest total of the season.

“I’ve seen him sharper,” Johnson said. “He had trouble getting the ball down. The balls he got hurt on were fastballs up, and he hasn’t been doing that all year. To me, he had a little command problem. He threw a lot of pitches in a short time, but he was getting the ball up.

“Kept us in the ballgame, our offense just seems to be sputtering. We just can’t get nothing going and that’s our problem right now.”

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