MIAMI - The dog days of August have arrived, and anyone who questions whether that’s a real thing needs only to have watched the Nationals slog their way through their last two games at Marlins Park.
Things had been going swimmingly through the first 10 1/2 innings of this series, with Gio Gonzalez nearly throwing a one-hitter Monday night and Max Scherzer homering during a six-run explosion early Tuesday night. But from the moment Scherzer departed with what turned out to be neck spasms, the Nationals looked lifeless and uninspired the rest of the way, culminating with tonight’s 7-0 loss to the Marlins.
In dropping the last two games of this three-game series, the Nationals were shut out over a span of 15 innings. Their lone win Monday was by the count of 1-0, and they scored all six runs of Tuesday’s loss in the top of the second, and so they wound up scoring in only two of the series’ 27 innings.
“It’s been a tough stretch on us offensively the last few games, other than that six run inning that we had yesterday,” manager Dusty Baker said. “It’s hard to throw up that many zeros against us. I don’t know how many they threw up. Yeah, that wasn’t a very good series for us.”
That tonight’s shutout came at the hands of journeyman Vance Worley only made the affair more aggravating for the Nationals, owners of the National League’s most-productive lineup.
That lineup, while still capable of posting monster numbers on any given day, has been subjected to more sluggish games like this in recent weeks, perhaps showing the negative impact at last of the long-term injuries to Jayson Werth, Trea Turner, Michael A. Taylor and Adam Eaton.
It hasn’t helped that Bryce Harper has fallen into a mini-slump. Since posting a 19-game hitting streak, the MVP candidate has gone 2-for-21 and hasn’t played with much energy in the field or on the bases.
Daniel Murphy also hasn’t looked himself in recent days, prompting Baker to give him tonight off after seeing signs of his “bat slowing down.”
The lineup that remained tonight was turned into mincemeat by Worley, the much-traveled right-hander who entered with a 6.42 ERA but churned out seven innings of scoreless ball, allowing two singles and zero walks while facing the minimum in his best major league start since July 4, 2011, when he was a rookie for the Phillies.
“He’s pitched those kind of games against my clubs before when he was in Philadelphia,” Baker said. “He was sharp tonight. He was around the plate. He was effectively wild on a couple balls, but ... he had us topping balls and we just couldn’t center them. And then when we did, someone was standing there.”
Worley was a non-roster invitee to Nationals camp this spring, and there was reason to believe he had a good chance of heading north with the club as a long reliever and emergency starter. After a rough spring, though, Worley was granted his release.
Turns out the Nats could’ve used him tonight. Forced to use a one-time spot starter in the wake of Sunday’s doubleheader in D.C., they instead called up A.J. Cole from Triple-A Syracuse. Cole managed to get through his first four innings having allowed only one early run, but he wilted in the fifth, surrendering two-run homers to both Christian Yelich and Derek Dietrich.
“I was really trying to get here and be ready to help the bullpen out,” Cole said. “They had a bullpen day yesterday, and I was trying to give them everything I had. But those two pitches kind of changed the game for me.”
Cole ultimately departed after five innings, allowing five runs, and is likely headed back to Syracuse while the Nationals reset their rotation for a big weekend series in Chicago.
The entire roster might feel like it needs to hit the reset button before showing up to Wrigley Field on Friday, where a far more dangerous opponents awaits.
“Everybody knows the team is good, and we’re going to have some bad games, some good games,” catcher Jose Lobaton said. “I think it’s part of baseball. We got the day off tomorrow. Get some rest and try to beat Chicago.”