CINCINNATI - The Nationals had some early chances, putting two on in the first and getting the leadoff hitter aboard in four of the first five innings today.
They were unable to score in those spots, however, and the missed opportunities combined with a few baserunning errors led to a 1-0 loss to the Reds.
The Nats ran into three outs on the bases, two by Bryce Harper, who was doubled off first base on a deep fly ball in the second and then thrown out trying to advance to third base on an infield single in the seventh.
The ninth inning saw the Nats miss out on a chance against Reds closer Aroldis Champan when Ian Desmond, who reached with a leadoff walk, was caught stealing for the first out of the frame.
Gio Gonzalez worked seven strong innings, allowing just a run on four hits, but that was enough for the Reds, who evened this series ahead of tomorrow’s rubber game.
Here are quotes from the Nats clubhouse after the loss:
Manager Matt Williams on if Harper made a smart play going for third in the seventh: “No. Certainly, if the ball gets away from the first baseman or there’s an errant throw, he can make it, but he didn’t have a good enough jump. Generally, you see that when guys are on the move, when they’re running and a ball’s dribbled to third like that. But again, he’s aggressive. Trying to make something happen. He just got caught.”
Williams on if Harper squaring to bunt with Desmond on first in the ninth is a call from the dugout: “Yeah. (Chapman’s) 1.6 (seconds) to the plate. We’ve got an opportunity there to get a guy in scoring position, so we’ve run it a few times this year. It’s worked. Des didn’t get the greatest jump. But that’s a designed play that we work on. And the fact that he’s slow to the plate, we wanted to take a chance there.”
Williams on Harper not getting the bunt down with the count 0-1: “He’s not supposed to get it down. It’s a designed play to steal second base, depending on how quick (Chapman) is. He’d thrown over there twice, and we got it, we just didn’t execute.”
Wiliams on what was working for Gonzalez today after a rough outing his last time out: “Just again, when he throws strikes early on, he settles in really nice. His curveball was good today. Johnny Cueto’s just a pretty good pitcher. We just couldn’t muster.”
Williams on missing opportunities against Cueto early and him settling in after that: “Yeah, in the middle innings, his fastball velocity started to increase. (Adam LaRoche) hit a ball hard in the first inning, and beyond that, it’s a 95 mph fastball with movement, both sides of the plate, with slider and changeup to go with it. He’s pretty good.”
Williams on whether the baserunning errors hurt more in a one-run loss: “It’s DNA. It’s part of our DNA - we’re going to be aggressive. So sometimes it works. We talked about it not too long ago, how good it was. Sometimes it bites you. We can’t change the way we play. It’s aggressive by nature, it’s the way we want to go about it, and we don’t want to change that.”
Harper on what his read was when he was thrown out in the seventh inning: “Just trying to go to third. I thought I had a beat on it, but they got me.”
Harper on his ninth-inning at-bat: “I was trying to get the bunt down the first pitch. The next pitch was a fake bunt, try to pull it back and let Desi steal second and get him into scoring position. That’s tough against Chapman. He throws 103. I kinda had no shot.”
Harper on the missed opportunities: “Cueto is good. There’s nothing you can do. Gio threw great. Cueto did a great job. He left like eight guys on base or something like that. You know, it happens. He’s a great pitcher and executes in everything he does. Sometimes you gotta tip your cap and play the game.”
Harper on getting doubled off first base in the second inning on Wilson Ramos’ long flyout: “I thought that was burned for sure. Guys hit balls like that in this yard all the time and usually hits off the wall or leaves the yard. There’s nothing I can do about it. Definitely would have scored if it was over his head. (Jay) Bruce made a great play, came up firing. Nothing I can do.”
Gonzalez on what was working for him today: “I tried to take a little page off Tanner Roark and Doug Fister’s method of pitching or working quick and pounding the strike zone. And not try to baby the pitches and just try go out there and try to do your best and throw strikes.”
Gonzalez on if he’s encouraged with how he’s pitched since coming off the DL: “You still gotta keep working. You can never be satisfied until the season is over. But I think it’s one of those things you try to do your best and try to minimize damage as much as possible. Obviously, today’s game was going to be one of those high, intense games. Cueto has been fantastic. If you look at how the game went, it was going to be all the way until the end.”
Gonzalez on his fastball velocity improving lately: “It’s still trying to build strength and trying to get more early work in. I’ve been working with our strength coach and the trainers in the training room just trying to get back in shape and get myself where I need to be. I ain’t that 18-year-old kid anymore. I actually have to work a little bit harder now. You just keep moving forward and look at the positives. I get to watch four other stud pitchers go out there and compete and watch them do their job and takes a little bit of pressure off myself. I just try to do my best and try to throw strikes.”
Gonzalez on the pitch to Chris Heisey that resulted in the double that led to the game’s only run: “I would’ve wanted it nowhere else. He just kept his hands in and got it right down the line. It just stayed true and stayed right down the line. He caught it out in front and the way he finished is a good sign of where you wanted to pitch it.”