Twice during his brief, three-minute postgame press conference tonight, Nationals manager Davey Johnson - a man who rarely is at a lack for words - uttered a simple phrase that sums up how perplexed the Nats are by their 42-42 start this season.
“I don’t have any answers,” Johnson said quietly.
The Nationals fell to the Brewers 4-1 tonight, marking their second straight defeat at the hands of a team that sits in the cellar in the National League Central. Going into yesterday’s game, Milwaukee was 17 games under .500, but the Brewers have outscored the Nats 8-1 over the last two days, pushing the Nats back to .500 after two uplifting wins Sunday and Monday had briefly boosted their spirits yet again.
Tonight, it was Kyle Lohse who shut the Nats down, allowing just one run over eight innings of work. He outpitched Ross Detwiler, who was strong early in the game, throwing three scoreless innings to start, before the Brewers touched him for four runs (two earned) over his next three frames.
“Lohse pitched a good ballgame,” Johnson said. “He was using both sides of the plate. A little breaking ball. But just kind of ... nothing. Getting nothing going. And Det was really using all his pitches the first couple innings and he was outstanding. Threw some great curveballs. I think he lost the feel of it later in the game. Left some curveballs up and gave up some hits on some hanging curveballs. Pitched all right for coming back.
“Thought he had good stuff, just didn’t make the pitches when he needed to.”
Lohse is a talented pitcher who now has a 3.43 ERA on the season. There’s certainly no shame in getting held down by a starter of his quality.
But the Nats had scored a combined 23 runs in their wins Sunday and Monday, only to now put up just a single run the last two nights.
“It’s putting me in the loony bin,” Johnson said of the inconsistent offense.
The Nats have failed to score more than one run in 23 games this season (27 percent of their games to this point), and they’ve won just one of those 23 contests.
Was the problem more approach or execution tonight?
“I mean, it looks like we’re giving good at-bats, we’re just not getting it done,” Johnson said, before repeating an earlier message. “I don’t really have any answers.”
Dating back to last season, Johnson has been trying to get Detwiler to mix up his pitches more and utilize more off-speed stuff to keep hitters off his fastball. Tonight, Detwiler threw 13 off-speed pitches, per BrooksBaseball.net, which might not seem like a lot, but is a step in the right direction as far as Johnson is concerned.
“I was really encouraged,” Johnson said. “He had some good hitters scratching their head. Didn’t use the changeup as much. Used the curveball. Usually his off-speed pitch is his change. But I thought he was throwing the heck out of the ball. When he needed a breaking ball on the left-hander, he just left a fastball up out over the plate.”
For the second straight day, Bryce Harper dropped a fly ball, and both times the drop resulted in additional runs being scored by the Brewers. Tonight, Harper tried to make a sliding catch in the sixth only to have Aramis Ramirez’s line drive bounce off his glove for an error, leading to two unearned runs.
“I don’t know. It was hit pretty hard,” Johnson said when asked about the play. “It could’ve been knuckling. It could’ve been anything. Never know.”
Not much went right again tonight, so Johnson was left reaching when trying to pull some positives out of the Nats’ current situation.
“Well, I’m glad we’re coming back early in the morning to get this taste out of our mouth,” Johnson said. “I’m happy for that.”