Another rain delay, another loss for Nats (updated)

They played a ballgame at Nationals Park this afternoon, the 143rd game of this 162-game season. For the third straight day, it included a rain delay. And for the second time this weekend, it included a loss to the Dodgers.

The finale of a long, drawn-out series ended with a dud, Trevor Williams digging the Nationals into yet another early hole en route to a 7-3 loss that never really felt within reach even though it technically was.

Those who were here for the entire weekend were treated to a grand total of 9 hours, 26 minutes of actual baseball, plus 6 hours, 42 minutes of delays. Outside of a few fun moments late Saturday night in the Nats’ 11-inning win, most of it was tough to experience in person.

The Dodgers, unsurprisingly, proved themselves to be the superior team, well on their way to a 10th division title in 11 years. The Nationals, after an uplifting stretch for much of July and August, have now lost 10 of 13 with three weeks to go in the season, two of them to be spent on the road, one of them to be spent back here.

"The long games, the extra innings ... this weekend was a grind," manager Davey Martinez said. "We didn't score many runs today, but I saw some really good things."

Not on the list of good things seen today, or throughout this downturn: Starting pitchers who leave the team trailing early, forcing everyone else to try to make up for it along the way.

Williams continued the trend today. When he gave up a two-run single to Jason Heyward, he became the 10th straight Nationals starter to be scored upon in the first inning, a staggering streak involving six different pitchers of different ages, experience levels and overall performances.

"It's tough for the guys, it really is," Martinez said. "You're on the field for a while. A lot of times it takes the aggressiveness away from the hitters, because they want to give the pitcher some time to settle down. The good news is, we get to hit first tomorrow (on the road). And hopefully we score first tomorrow."

It would be one thing if Williams brushed off his first-inning troubles and still put together a strong outing as rookie Jake Irvin did Saturday night. Instead, the veteran went in the opposite direction, adding to the deficit the longer he pitched.

Williams opened the second inning with a home run to James Outman, the league-leading 34th he has surrendered this year.

"Truly, I thought that was the only mis-executed pitch I threw today," he insisted. "It's a lazy first pitch to a guy we knew was swinging early. It was just a lazy first pitch that he took advantage of."

Williams would later drill David Peralta with a pitch with the bases loaded to force in another run and send Peralta to the trainer’s room with an elbow contusion.

Two walks and a single in the top of the fifth ended Williams’ afternoon at 100 pitches. When Mason Thompson allowed two inherited runners to score, Williams found himself charged with six earned runs in 4 1/3 innings, his ERA now 5.44 with three weeks to go.

"I'm looking forward to finishing this year strong," he said. "I'm looking forward to getting in how many innings I need to get. If we can take a step back and look at what we've accomplished this year as a team, I think as a team we've made great strides forward. We can't lose 100 games this year. We've had a tremendous offensive display from a lot of guys that have taken tremendous positive steps in their careers. ... You look around the infield and outfield, there's a lot to look forward to."

Martinez has talked about monitoring Williams’ workload in his first season as a full-time starter since 2019 with the Pirates. It remains to be seen if he’ll continue to take each of his remaining turns in the rotation, or if the Nats might opt to give those to a younger option who deserves a look in this final stretch.

"I told him: 'You've got to be honest with me. If we've got to push you back to get you through the season, we can definitely do that,'" Martinez said. "And to this point, he says he feels fine. I keep an eye on him throughout the games. … But we definitely want to keep an eye on him as well, because he's going to be here next year, and he's going to start games for us next year as well."

Williams dug the Nationals into a 4-0 hole early. His teammates managed to get two of those runs back in the bottom of the fourth via four singles, the last of them by rookie catcher Drew Millas. They added three more singles in the sixth, plating one run in the process via rookie Jacob Young’s second infield single of the day.

In between those two developments came an all-too-familiar scene. As the Dodgers were trying to rally in the top of the fifth, the skies opened up. With the bases loaded, crew chief Larry Vanover tried to keep the game going, hoping to at least complete the inning. That was a hopeless cause, and with a 2-2 count on Austin Barnes, Vanover finally relented and called for the grounds crew to roll out the tarp.

And so these teams retreated to their respective clubhouses to endure through their third rain delay of the weekend. This one was the shortest of them all, lasting only 58 minutes. At this stage of a long season that is slowly creeping toward the finish line, it only felt longer.

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