MILWAUKEE - There's a pretty clear reason why the Nationals just concluded an eight-game road trip with a 1-7 record, their worst stretch of the season: It's because their pitching has started to slip.
Whether that's because a staff that overachieved for the first month of the season is starting to regress, or because this team still has trouble preventing runs on the road remains to be seen. But the Nationals pitched poorly through much of their eight-game trip, and almost no one was immune.
They allowed 43 runs in eight games, the most they've given up in any eight-game stretch this year. Their bullpen, which has been the strength of the team, blew a lead Tuesday night. Every starter in their rotation took a loss. And at the end of it, the Nationals found themselves seven games under .500.
"We need to put the offense and the pitching together more often on the same day," manager Jim Riggleman said. "I thought Jason (Marquis) threw the ball very well today. We've had parts, but not too often lately on the same day."
Marquis made his second start of the trip Wednesday, lasting six innings after he got into a heated argument with manager Jim Riggleman over an early exit last Friday in Baltimore. But Marquis still gave up four runs in six innings, walking four batters, allowing Zack Greinke's first homer since 2005 and becoming the third Nationals pitcher in as many days to give up two runs in the first inning after he deviated from his usual plan against Prince Fielder.
He threw the slugger a first-pitch slider, and came back to his breaking pitch after two fastballs that Fielder took. Fielder fouled off the first slider, and ripped the second one to the center field wall for a two-run double.
"My pitch selection was the one thing that really got me today. I didn't stick with the game plan at that particular moment, and it came back to bite me," Marquis said. "The way I attacked Prince in the first inning was not the way I normally attack him. I've had good success against him in the past, but he came back to get me with the double. And the changeup to Rickie Weeks (in the third inning), those are two pitches I wish I had back."
And Cole Kimball, who allowed two runs on four hits in his last game against the Orioles on Saturday, walked two batters and gave up a run in 2/3 of an inning on Wednesday, helping the Brewers put the game out of reach. He came off the mound fuming over a couple pitches home plate umpire Adrian Johnson didn't call strikes, though he declined to discuss the umpires after the game.
"I think Kimball threw some strikes there that just didn't go his way," Riggleman said. "He threw the ball really well. There were a couple pitches he just didn't get the call on. I feel bad for him, because he knows he's racked up a few walks there, but he's thrown the ball good. He felt that those were strikes."
The Nationals return home, where they've both pitched and played markedly better than on the road, for the start of a six-game homestand on Friday. But after that, they're back out on another three-city road trip, this one their longest of the year. They'll go to Arizona, San Francisco and San Diego, and they're suddenly in need of a hot streak to pull their record out of a hole. That would mean their pitching staff needs to get things going again soon.