The beige-toned worldview by which Nationals manager Jim Riggleman sees a baseball game, when few wins or losses rise above the 161 other outcomes in the course of a season, allows him to look at his team’s 5-3 loss to the Baltimore Orioles on Friday night and see a defeat that’s easier to swallow than the one that preceded it.
Riggleman saw the Nationals play crisp, efficient baseball on Friday night, not the 3 Ã‚Â½-hour yuk-fest they’d produced the night before against the Mets, after which the manager upbraided his team for its sloppy play.
“We played a great ballgame tonight. We just got beat,” Riggleman said. “We played good baseball.”
But the facts are these: The Nationals lost for the seventh time in eight games, to the team with baseball’s worst record. They dropped below .500 for the first time since April 15. And they’ll have to wait until at least tomorrow to know when Scott Olsen, who’s been their second-best starter this year, will pitch next.
Olsen came out of the game after three innings with left shoulder tightness; the Nationals knew something was wrong with his shoulder during his bullpen session before the game, and it led to a wild outing for a pitcher who’s mostly been sharp this season.
The left-hander, who had season-ending shoulder surgery last season and was still rehabbing during spring training, was not available for comment after the game. Riggleman said it was too early to tell if Olsen would spend time on the disabled list, and his fastball still touched 90 mph on Friday, but with his history, there was at least reason to fear there might be an injury looming.
“I was just screaming at him in the bullpen, ‘Are you OK? Are you OK?’ He didn’t say anything to me,” catcher Ivan Rodriguez said. “I knew there was something wrong with him. Hopefully, it’s just for a few days, and he can come back the next start and come back healthy. But it was tough for him today.”
Olsen lost the final spot in the rotation out of spring training to Garrett Mock partially because of concerns about his shoulder strength, so he wasn’t about to let on any arm troubles until he had to. But in the first three innings of Friday’s game, his attempt to gut through his start led to erratic results.
He walked three batters and allowed four hits, his shoulder issues hitching his delivery the entire night, and came out after the third with the Nationals down 4-0. Not that their offense helped alleviate the problems any.
Washington managed just one hit off Orioles starter David Hernandez, who hadn’t won in 11 starts. And that was from reliever Miguel Batista, who hadn’t had a hit in almost four years.
“My hits are like comets,” Batista joked. “They come every four or five years.”
When the Nationals did pull within one, on a Willie Harris homer in the seventh inning, it appeared they might pull out a victory against a bullpen that’s made a habit of donating them to opponents this year. But Drew Storen gave up his first big-league run in the eighth, and the Nationals couldn’t mount any more offense.
“We’re facing (closer Alfredo) Simon, a guy we’ve never seen before, and he throws a billion miles an hour,” Harris said. “You’ve got to tip your hat to those guys. They pitched well. We couldn’t get big hits.”
That’s been a common theme for the Nationals, who have scored more than three runs just twice in their last eight games. And now, they go into Saturday needing back-to-back wins to claim a series against their regional rivals and more important, regain some momentum in what might be the softest stretch of their schedule this season.
Even without Olsen’s injury, the Nationals had enough reasons for concern after Friday’s game, though Riggleman said he was “not at all” worried about the team.
The Nationals might share his mindset. But they’ve clearly got some things to fix.
“We are in a little skid,” Harris said. “But I don’t think it’s serious. I don’t think it’s anything to worry about. We just need to continue playing hard baseball.”