Jayson Werth believes in the law of averages, which is about the only rational way to defend any doubts created by the elephant that's taken up residence in the hitters' side of Nationals' clubhouse. The Nats wasted another strong pitching performance Saturday, unable to back up Livan Hernandez's effort with even a meager amount of offense, a troubling trend that's becoming all too routine when the right-hander is on the hill.
"Obviously, we're not getting the big hit," Werth said after Anibal Sanchez and the Florida Marlins edged the Nationals 1-0, dealing Washington its third straight defeat. "We're not pushing the run across to win those games. It's not for a lack of effort and I don't think it's for a lack of talent, either. We've got a good club, a good group of guys, and I think at the end of the season, everything's going to work out."
Maybe by then, the Nationals will come up with better responses to explain away a befuddling inability to come through in the clutch. If it's maddening for the fans and media to ask about it, it must be indescribably impossible to devise new ways to verbalize how the lack of offense is - or isn't, depending on who's doing the talking - dragging the Nats down.
Hernandez did his part, matching zeroes with Sanchez until Mike Stanton crushed a solo homer to left-center with two down in the seventh. Only on this day, when he became the 108th pitcher in major league history since 1900 to eclipse the 3,000-inning plateau for his career, Hernandez (3-5) had nothing to show for yeoman's work.
"We got a little hard time now," he said after scattering six hits in seven innings. "Everything is coming around. We're going to be good."
The Nationals' pitchers are certainly doing their part to enact a turnaround. Hernandez's effort was the 23rd quality start in 29 games. He walked one and struck out four while willing himself through a 110-pitch afternoon, and one of his only mistakes came on the 2-2 fastball he tried to sneak past Stanton on the outside part of the plate.
"It's not frustrating. I pitched good. ... I can't do nothing (about it)," Hernandez said.
In the fourth inning, by inducing a harmless grounder to short off the bat of Omar Infante, Hernandez reached the 3,000-inning mark for his career. He joins Boston knuckleballer Tim Wakefield as the only active major leaguers to achieve that milestone.
"It's not easy to throw 3,000 innings. It's a lot of innings," Hernandez said.
And Hernandez has no doubt that his non-supportive offense,which was shut out for the fifth time this season and has managed just one run in his last three starts, will eventually score for him. Hernandez said he can only do his part, not worry about manufacturing runs.
"I'm a pitcher. I go outside and pitch the game. I'm not looking for nothing else. ... I'm going to win a lot of games if I go pitch like that," he said.
The Nationals had chances, but quickly short-circuited potential rallies, maybe by the aggressive approach they've embraced this season, perhaps out of old-fashioned bad luck. With runners on the corners and two down in the seventh, Jerry Hairston Jr. tried to slap Sanchez's first pitch into left field but wound up grounding out to third for the final out of the inning.
Washington threatened against closer Leo Nunez in the ninth when Werth walked, Laynce Nix singled and Adam LaRoche's fielder's choice grounder put runners at the corners with one down. Wilson Ramos, hoping to get a ball into the outfield for a sacrifice fly, swung at Nunez's first pitch and skied out to second. Hairston then lined an 0-1 pitch to left for the game's final out. Instead of rallying for a fourth consecutive extra-inning game, Nunez survived a shaky outing for his 14th save in as many tries.
"We're in the game. It's not like we're not. We've got opportunities," Werth said. "We're right there. It's tough not to get frustrated with the way we're playing. We're playing good baseball and just haven't been on the right side of things more often than not. ... We're close."
But not close enough.
For the second time in seven days, the Nationals couldn't figure out Sanchez (3-1), who took a no-hitter into the seventh inning in Miami on Sunday before Nix spoiled it. This time around, Nix's second-inning single was Washington's only hit off the right-hander through the first six innings. Sanchez wound up allowing three hits over eight scoreless innings, walking two and striking out nine.
"The guys are doing everything they can," manager Jim Riggleman said. "Looking at tape, getting extra work, doing everything they can to come out of this. We're running into some good pitching, which in the National League East, that's the way it's going to be."
And the Nats' hitting woes? Like Werth, Riggleman believes the batting slump will eventually even itself out. The manager isn't about to nitpick when his club is staying a timely hit away from tying or winning a game.
"Is that the right way to go, if you make an out on the first pitch (with runners in scoring position)? Certainly, it can be perceived as, 'What was your hurry? Get a better pitch.' " Riggleman said. "But you know what? That's all hindsight. I've got no problems with anybody's approach, the way they're going about it, as long as they keep a positive attitude about it and keep getting after it the way they are and don't accept .. the level that we're at offensively right now."