Nationals’ bullpen crumbles in 7-6 loss to Brewers

MILWAUKEE - Give the Nationals this: The way they lost to the Brewers on Tuesday night, building a three-run lead on a grand slam and watching their bullpen let it slip away, isn’t the way they usually lose games.

And that’s why, in another stone-silent clubhouse after a 7-6 loss at Miller Park, it was tough to find anybody who could come up with something they would have done differently. Manager Jim Riggleman said the decision to go to Henry Rodriguez, the talented-yet-wild reliever whom the Nationals had been easing into big situations, with a one-run lead in the eighth was “pretty obvious.” Rodriguez shook off the two-run, go-ahead single he gave up to Jonathan Lucroy in the eighth inning, saying through interpreter Javier Castro, “It’s baseball. You guys saw what happened. It’s part of the game. It was a jam shot, and it fell in.”

Even reliever Drew Storen, who had thrown 25 pitches the night before in mop-up duty to get him some work, wasn’t buying the idea that Riggleman should have gone to him for a five-out save in the eighth inning, instead of using Rodriguez with a small lead for the first time.

“I could have (done it), but I don’t necessarily think that’s the right call,” he said. “You’ve got Henry throwing 100. He threw some good breaking balls, too. That ball hit the line, didn’t it? That stuff happens.”

If Monday’s 11-3 drubbing was a night for we’re-not-going-to-take-this-anymore pronouncements, Tuesday’s was one for shrugs, shaking heads and brief answers. But it was a loss all the same, and no matter what the Nationals did well in the first six innings of the game, they still left Miller Park on Tuesday in bad need of a win.

“It’s gut-wrenching, man. It’s tough,” said reliever Tyler Clippard, who gave up a two-run homer to Rickie Weeks in the seventh inning that pulled the Brewers within one. “We’re in a rough stretch right now. We’ve got to stay positive. These losses hurt, especially a game like this. We’ve got to win this game. But there’s tomorrow, and that’s the great thing about this game. We’ve got to do our best to stay positive.”

The loss was the Nationals’ sixth in their last seven games, negating a night where they scored six runs off Brewers starter Chris Narveson and knocked the left-hander out of the game in the fourth inning. Michael Morse, who homered on Monday, got a fat fastball from Narveson in the third inning and blasted it to right for a grand slam, putting the Nationals up 5-2.

Their lead remained at three runs in the seventh inning, when Clippard relieved Livan Hernandez, walked Craig Counsell and gave up the homer to Weeks on a 1-1 pitch. And though Sean Burnett started the eighth inning, Riggleman said he was only there for left-hander Prince Fielder.

Burnett, who had the Nationals’ first three saves this year, got the cleanup hitter out, and then gave way to Rodriguez.

“Burnett was there to face Fielder. That was it,” Riggleman said. “Everybody else coming up, I thought, power hitters, Rodriguez matched up real good against. Rodriguez has been outstanding as of late. To tell you the truth, I thought it was pretty obvious.”

He recovered to strike out Mark Kotsay after giving up a leadoff single to Casey McGehee, but walked Brandon Boggs on four straight fastballs. Then, Lucroy punched his single down the right field line, and when Werth fielded the ball on two hops before firing to Morse, Boggs raced around third. Morse’s relay home beat Boggs there, but Wilson Ramos couldn’t hang onto the ball as Boggs crashed into him, and the Brewers had their go-ahead run.

Both Werth and Ramos declined to speak to reporters after the game.

“It’s a flare hit,” Riggleman said. “That could have happened off Storen, too.”

However settled the Nationals felt about their end-of-game moves, they still had to deal with these facts: They’re now 21-27. They’ll have to beat former AL Cy Young winner Zack Greinke on Thursday to avoid a sweep and a 1-7 road trip. And for just the second time this year, they lost after leading through seven innings.