Nats' aggressiveness thwarted so far in series against Reds

CINCINNATI - The Nationals have not had the offense ignite in this series against the Reds as they might have anticipated after a good start to the nine-game road trip.

In the first two games against the Reds, the Nats have combined to score just five runs on 10 hits.

The Nats have zero stolen bases in the series on three attempts and have grounded into one double play. In the first game, Trea Turner appeared to have gone first to third on a hard-hit ball by Bryce Harper, but video replay revealed he was tagged out at third and the rally was cut short.

On Saturday, Ben Revere and Harper were caught stealing at second base. The Reds have been able to counter the Nationals' attempts to be aggressive on the base paths.

Manager Dusty Baker said it is not for a lack of trying. The Nationals have to try to find a way to get runs on the board.

"The thing about it is we're not scoring a whole bunch of runs," Baker said. "You can wait around for the homer if you want to, but it doesn't work that way sometimes.

"When you steal the base, everybody is happy. But when you get caught, everybody is like, 'What happened?' That young man, (Reds catcher) Tucker Barnhart, I had him, and he can throw the lights out of the ball. The situation ... is called stealing. It's not called giving or taking. If you steal, sometimes even the best of thieves get caught sometimes. Don't lose sight of the fact that it is called stealing."

But Baker did touch on the offense, and it has not excelled this weekend as might have been expected in a band box like Great American Ball Park and against a team that came in with the worst run differential in the major leagues. The Reds' minus-98 run differential has been cut to minus-90.

Harper and Daniel Murphy haven't been able to get on track, combining for one hit and no RBIs in the first two games. Ryan Zimmerman is away on paternity leave. The lineup hasn't been consistent offensively all season, but has usually found enough to win games. The Nats scored 16 combined runs in the sweep of the Phillies, but just five runs so far in Cincinnati.

espinosa-gray-at-bat-sidebar.jpgOn Saturday, Danny Espinosa continued to hit for power, smacking a game-tying solo shot in the eighth. He now has five homers in his last six hits. But he says that's not what he's always looking to do.

"Obviously, I'd like more base hits," Espinosa said. "The power, I'm not up there trying to do it. I think I'm just taking advantage of a few mistakes. My goal is to just keep hitting the ball hard, stay with my approach, keep grinding."

Espinosa's homer came in a spot where he usually would be taking a pitch.

"I'd say it was pretty center-cut, but it was a 3-0 pitch," Espinosa said. "Typically, I'm not a swinger there. It was just a great time to do it and got a pretty center-cut pitch."

The Nationals would like to see Anthony Rendon continue his turnaround at the plate. He's reached base four times in the series and had a go-ahead two-run shot to start the offense Saturday.

"I don't know, just finding holes," Rendon said of his recent hitting. "I hate repeating myself, but I feel like I've been hitting the ball hard, relatively hard, throughout the whole season. Balls are starting to go a little further in warmer weather and starting to find some holes in the outfield."

Rendon was happy to get the offense on the board in the second inning and to finally play with the lead. It didn't come to fruition in the 6-3 loss, but that's the strategy Baker has pushed from day one.

"Dusty's been saying it all year," Rendon said. "He said it in spring training, to hit the team in the mouth first, get those runs on the board in the top of the inning or just score first in general. To score first, it's always a good feeling because you feel like you are obviously getting out in front early. They made a great comeback, just battling back and forth. They're a professional team, they came back and beat us."

Programming note: Join me at 11:30 a.m. for "Nats Insider," a one-hour call-in show on 106.7 The Fan live from Great American Ball Park prior to the Nationals pregame show. We will have news on the upcoming homestead, Turner's meeting with the media and a special guest.

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