Silent bats, fifth inning sink Nats in 4-2 loss

SAN FRANCISCO - There was nothing particularly correctible about the way Livan Hernandez pitched on Tuesday night, and maybe that’s what made it so frustrating. If San Francisco Giants pitcher Todd Wellemeyer doesn’t lunge at a 0-2 slider, successfully throwing his bat out at it for a blooper to right, the inning that did the Nationals in on Tuesday night might never have come together.

But Wellemeyer’s ball dropped in front of Roger Bernadina, and the Giants followed with four more hits of a similarly pedestrian nature. Some of them were soft singles, others were good pieces of hitting on good pitches. None of them prompted an immediate diagnosis or quick turns of the wrench. It was a night where Hernandez could watch the video and see there wasn’t much he would have done different, and yet he lost anyway.

And the defeat, a 4-2 loss to the Giants at AT&T Park, might sting a little more because of what it meant. With games the next two days against a reigning Cy Young winner (Tim Lincecum) and a resurgent one (Barry Zito), the Nationals had a chance to squirrel away a win against a team that had lost five straight and hadn’t scored in its last 20 innings coming into the night.

Johnny and Ray talk with Jim Riggleman about the Nats’ 4-2 loss to the Giants

They lost, though, and their road to winning the first series of a 10-game road trip gets considerably tougher.

“I lost the game in a very stupid way,” Hernandez said. “Two out, and I’ve got the game right there, and I lose it. ... I get frustrated when this happens like that. I don’t get frustrated by something else, when I get beat. With two outs, I got the pitch in for a strike. I get frustrated.”

It was the fifth inning that stuck out on an otherwise solid night for the Nationals pitchers, and that inning alone that decided the game.

Hernandez retired nine of the first 10 batters he faced, then stranded two runners in the fourth as the game went into the fifth scoreless. When the Giants surged against Hernandez, though, the Nationals could do nothing against Wellemeyer. They had runners on second and third with one out in the third inning, but Nyjer Morgan and Cristian Guzman both made weak outs.

The Nationals got their only two runs in the seventh, and even then, an inning that started with three straight hits was never fully ignited.

Where the Giants hit line drives into gaps that scored runs, the Nationals squared up long fly balls that strained against the wind blowing in from the San Francisco Bay and turned into outs.

“In this ballpark, if you hit the ball in the air, you’re asking for long fly balls to the warning track,” said reliever Tyler Walker, the former Giants right-hander who pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings for the Nationals on Tuesday. “When I’ve gotten hurt here in this ballpark, it’s been line drives in the gap. Guys that can hit the ball on a line here are going to have success. Sometimes, they’re going to go out. But for the most part, you’ve got to try and hit the ball hard in the gaps here.”

So now the Nationals are back at .500, faced with beating Lincecum and Zito to win the series, or beating just one of them to avoid getting swept. It’s an unenviable position for a team that’s made a habit of winning series this year, and it’s one that could’ve been avoided if not for a few flares off Hernandez.
“They just got him,” Riggleman said. “He was outstanding for four and two-thirds, and when Wellemeyer got the hit, it seemed like he didn’t really regroup. I know he was trying. He was trying to finish off the inning. There were some long-pitch at-bats there. But they were due to come out. They had gone some innings without scoring, and they were due to get a few. They got Livo there.”