Bats remain quiet as Nats miss latest chance to cross .500 hurdle (updated)

ARLINGTON, Texas – One of these days, perhaps in the near future, perhaps in the not-so-near future, the Nationals will reach the .500 mark and win their next game so they can proudly declare they are a winning baseball team for the first time in three years.

That day isn’t today, though. Because presented with their third opportunity this season to leap over the proverbial .500 hump, they once again came up short at the plate and lost 6-0 to the Rangers.

The Nationals have made significant strides through the season’s first month-plus. They’re playing a much more competitive brand of baseball than in recent seasons. They’re getting quality pitching performances a majority of the time. But they’re still not hitting with any regularity, and that was never on display more than it was this week at Globe Life Field.

Facing the defending World Series champions, the Nats scored a grand total of two runs, finishing with 12 hits and three walks during the course of 27 innings of play. In spite of all that, they still won one of the three games and had a legitimate chance to win the other two.

Each loss, alas, came with the team sitting right at .500. And so the drought continues: The Nationals still have not owned a winning record since July 1, 2021.

"Unfortunately, you can't win every game. For a second there, I thought we were gonna," left fielder Jesse Winker said. "You try to keep your eyes on the bigger picture, and I think we're, what, 15-16? I think anybody would take that. Obviously we'd rather be 16-15 or better. But you keep going forward, you keep playing these games and see what happens."

Though they entered the day having won five of the first six games on this road trip, the Nationals did so without getting consistent production from almost everyone in their lineup. So Davey Martinez was hoping for more in the finale, at minimum some longer at-bats that might force the opposing pitcher to work a bit more.

It didn’t happen. Nathan Eovaldi cruised, posting zero after zero with a relatively low pitch count and little traffic on the bases until departing in the sixth with groin tightness. The Nats did finally draw a walk, with Nick Senzel earning the team’s first free pass in 21 innings, then another three innings later. But it mattered little because the guys behind him in the lineup couldn’t do anything to advance him.

Martinez’s lineup card featured a 4-5-6-7 quartet of Joey Meneses, Winker, Keibert Ruiz and Eddie Rosario. They entered the day mired in the following respective slumps: 1-for-17, 4-for-32, 1-for-29, 0-for-25. Then each went hitless, adding to those ghastly totals, until a Meneses single in the ninth inning, at which point it was too late.

"We've got some guys that are pressing a little bit," Martinez said. "They want to try to get out of it with just one swing. They've just got to be patient, stay in the middle of the field and hit the ball hard. ... We can't try to do too much."

The lack of run support has left the Nationals pitching staff with no margin for error. Trevor Williams and four relievers managed to do the impossible and pull off a 1-0 shutout win Wednesday night. Mitchell Parker couldn’t duplicate that feat today, though it was only one rough inning that plagued the rookie.

Making his fourth big league start, Parker surrendered three runs for the first time. All came in the bottom of the second, all scoring on two-out hits. Ezequiel Duran’s double brought home the day’s first run. Evan Carter’s 106.3 mph grounder under Meneses’ glove at first base brought home the second. And Marcus Semien’s single to left completed the rally and left the Nationals in a 3-0 hole.

"It could've went better," Parker said. "I wasn't making pitches, really, when I needed to be. I was leaving a lot of things in the zone and giving up more hits, more contact, more runs than we were hoping for."

Parker shrugged it all off and pitched effectively the rest of the way, retiring nine in a row at one point. Given a chance to take the mound for the sixth, he put two runners on but struck out Drew Smith before Martinez walked to the mound and signaled for the bullpen, Parker’s afternoon done after 83 pitches.

"I thought the game should've been 1-0 til the end," Martinez said. "I thought the kid pitched really well. He kept us in the ballgame."

The Nats needed their bullpen to be perfect just to keep the deficit at three runs. That was too much to ask; Matt Barnes surrendered three insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth to put the game out of reach.

Not that the Rangers needed all those runs. As was the case for the Nationals on Wednesday, one run was enough to win.

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