Johnson discusses Nats’ 3-2 loss to D-backs and Harper’s status

As he sat down for his postgame press conference after tonight’s 3-2, 11-inning loss to the Diamondbacks, Davey Johnson looked at reporters and slowly shook his head.

The offensive production and clutch hitting that had been present in the Nationals’ first two games of this series disappeared in today’s series finale, and the Nats will hop on a flight up to New York tonight again the owners of a .500 record.

You can’t exactly blame the Nats for missing the chance to pick up a series sweep of the D-backs (after all, Arizona does lead the National League West), but again, a chance to build some momentum and get a winning streak started was wasted.

“We just need to get a little something going,” Johnson said. “Eight hits, two runs, 11 innings? Pitching did OK, we’ve just been kinda sputtering on scoring runs.

“I like our defense. We’ve been playing good defense. Pitching’s been good. We’ve just got too many good hitters in the lineup that are just not (getting it done).”

The Nats got seven strong innings from Stephen Strasburg tonight, as the right-hander allowed just two earned runs on six hits. He served up a two-run homer to Aaron Hill in the sixth, but other than that, he held a potent Diamondbacks lineup in check.

On the other side, D-Backs starter Patrick Corbin kept up his strong start to the 2013 campaign, allowing just two runs over seven himself, striking out six. A two-run homer by Ian Desmond in the fourth accounted for the lone Nats runs of the day.

“Stras pitched a good ballgame, just made a kinda nothing pitch to the second baseman, but he kept us in there,” Johnson said. “I liked the way the other guy was throwing. We were chasing balls, curveballs. He threw the curveball off the plate in, and we had no chance. He kinda hung one to Desi, but we’ve just got to get off the schneid offensively.”

The Nats’ best chance after Desmond’s homer came in the seventh, when pinch-runner Jeff Kobernus stole second with two outs. Denard Span then ripped a hard ground ball down the first base line, a shot that looked like it’d for sure get past first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and go for a run-scoring extra-base hit. Instead, Goldschmidt made a lunging stab of the grounder and beat Span to the bag to end the threat.

“Span pulled a couple balls early in the at-bat and Kobernus stole second and then (Goldschmidt) came over and guarded the line more,” Johnson said. “And normally he’s way off the line. That was an outstanding play, outstanding read. He must’ve felt (Corbin) was going to pitch him in, and if he did get the bat out, it was going to be down the line.”

The game-winning run came in off Craig Stammen, who allowed a leadoff double in the 11th and then could do nothing but watch as Didi Gregorius executed a picture-perfect safety squeeze to put the D-backs on top for good.

The Nats say they had their eyes out for the squeeze, but there was nothing they could do with Gregorius’ slow-rolling bunt up the first base line.

“Here’s a guy who runs real good,” Johnson said of Gregorius. “He puts the ball in play. We were playing halfway. That was a blueprint. You can’t lay it out there any better than he did. It was just one of those things. It was that kind of a ballgame. A couple home runs and then a safety squeeze beats us.”

Johnson said before the game that Bryce Harper is likely to come off the DL and join the Nats on Monday when they open a series against the Brewers.

But with Harper continuing to rake on his rehab assignment (he went 2-for-4 with a triple, a walk, two RBIs and two runs scored tonight while playing for Double-A Harrisburg) and looking good moving around (my colleague Byron Kerr reports that Harper scored from first on an extra-base hit early in tonight’s game and had good speed around the bases), don’t be shocked if Harper ends up joining the Nats in New York this weekend.

“I’ll take him whenever he’s ready,” said Johnson, who had yet to get a report on Harper from the organization by the time he met with reporters. “I think we just need to talk to him, see how he’s feeling. But tomorrow was gonna be (a day off for Harper), then he was gonna go back to playing. So we’ll just have to wait and see.

“I’d like to have him in there. He can’t be hurting too bad.”

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