The day began with news of Sean Doolittle landing on the 10-day injured list with an elbow sprain, a development that on its own could’ve been enough to ruin the Nationals’ entire day.
Who knew it would be only the first in a series of calamities over the course of eight hours that ended with an 11-2 debacle of a loss to the Diamondbacks in which Erick Fedde recorded only 10 outs, Josh Bell departed with tightness in his left knee and a pregame demonstration of the U.S. Army parachute team prompted an emergency evacuation of the U.S. Capitol grounds.
Suffice it to say, it was not a particularly positive Wednesday night at the ballpark, wiping out plenty of the good vibes that emerged during Tuesday’s doubleheader sweep of Arizona.
"It felt like a cursed day, for sure, in that sense," Fedde said. "We're all trying to get our feet under us, and sometimes it's harder some days than others. I think we're all just trying to get through this first month and survive at this point."
This game represented a complete reversal of fortunes for both clubs. After holding the Diamondbacks to one total run across 18 innings of baseball the previous day, the Nationals pitching staff gave up a boatload of them tonight, with Fedde setting the tone during a start that lasted only 3 1/3 innings.
Perhaps more concerning in the big picture, though, was the departure of Bell prior to the top of the fourth with what afterward was revealed to be a left knee injury. The Nats cleanup hitter, far and away their most productive offensive player through the season’s first two weeks, may have hurt himself running the bases in the bottom of the second, when he doubled, took third on a fly ball to the warning track, then was thrown out trying to score on a chopper to third, though he said afterward it wasn't any one particular moment that caused his knee to tighten up.
"It wasn't like limping off the field, or anything like that," he said. "It just felt like something precautionary. If I can take care of this now, then good things will happen. We will see what happens tomorrow, and we will go from there."
Bell is scheduled to undergo an MRI on the knee Thursday morning, the results of which will determine if he can play in the 4:05 p.m. series finale.
"Right now, I don't feel too terrible," he said. "So hopefully it's not anything very serious."
Regardless, Bell's absence created a massive void in the lineup. Lucius Fox, a rookie utility infielder, took over at third base and batted cleanup. Maikel Franco shifted across the diamond to play first base. And that left the Nats with only two other players on the bench (outfielder Lane Thomas, catcher Riley Adams) because they optioned outfielder Donovan Casey to Triple-A Rochester before the game in order to add an extra reliever to account for Doolittle’s injury.
The remaining Nationals lineup wouldn’t put together much of anything against Diamondbacks starter Merrill Kelly. Not that it made much difference on a night when their pitching staff created a hole far too big to climb out of.
Fedde was the primary culprit, though it took a little while for it to happen. The right-hander cruised through an 11-pitch top of the first before things began to devolve. He surrendered an unearned run (aided by a throwing error on Alcides Escobar after Franco cut in front of him on a ground ball to the left side) in the second, then surrendered three earned runs in the third on four consecutive hits, then surrendered three more earned runs in the fourth.
The big blow was a two-run homer by Daulton Varsho on the 11th pitch of an at-bat, merely the latest example of a recurring problem for Fedde: An inability to put away hitters with two strikes.
"I think I showed him every pitch I have, and he just kept battling and ended up winning it," Fedde said. "That's the one where I wish I was on the other side of it. He gave me a hell of an at-bat."
Fedde would face one more batter before Davey Martinez walked to the mound and asked for the ball, his pitch count all the way up to 80 with one out in the top of the fourth, his ERA up to 6.75 after three starts on the season.
"I'll go back and watch, but they were fouling everything off," Martinez said. "They were moving the baseball. And the pitches he threw up, they hit pretty hard."
With Doolittle on the IL and the pitching staff as a whole still recovering from Tuesday’s doubleheader, the Nationals decided to add two arms to the bullpen before the game: Francisco Pérez and Sam Clay. Both left-handers would find their way to the mound in this one, with Pérez retiring only two of four batters in relief of Fedde but Clay retiring the side on six pitches in the top of the sixth.
Of course, by then the home team trailed by 11 runs, another three having scored off Patrick Murphy in the fifth, two of them unearned as a result of Fox’s throwing error from his unnatural position at third base.
As for the parachuting incident, apparently various government and military organizations weren’t on the same page, leaving police believing the UV-18 DeHavilland Twin Otter plane carrying six Army parachuters posed a “probable threat” to the U.S. Capitol and issuing a brief evacuation order for everyone on the grounds. Within minutes, it became clear the plane was part of the pregame military program at the game, and the evacuation order was rescinded.
Just add it to the list of things that went awry tonight.