Manager Davey Martinez had hoped the Nationals could use the final game of a West Coast road trip to end a three-game skid, prevent a sweep by the Giants and head into the All-Star break with a little bit of positive momentum.
Unfortunately, someone forgot to tell Giants right-hander Kevin Gausman, who throttled the Nats in a 3-1 victory that gave his team a sweep of the three-game weekend series.
Gausman allowed only four hits through six-plus innings - three of them of the infield variety - and struck out nine to improve to 10-3. The righty, who tormented the Nats with an assortment of cutters and splitters, had already earned a place on the National League All-Star team for Tuesday's game at Coors Field in Denver, though his tidy effort against the Nats will preclude him for pitching.
Nationals righty Erick Fedde didn't pitch poorly in his second start since coming off the injured list after an oblique issue. But he served up a three-run homer to Curt Casali in the second and the Nats could not recover.
"I needed to come out with a little more aggression, I'd say," Fedde said in his postgame Zoom session with reporters. "The first couple innings were tough. I was happy with myself with the way I settled in, but in the last couple starts, I think I've given up a three-run home run in each of them. So just gotta make a better pitch with people on base."
But Fedde still sees positive steps forward during a first half in which he firmed up his spot in the rotation and was at times the Nationals' most reliable starter.
"Overall, I was really happy with it, up until these last couple starts," he said. "But I think that's part of the season, your ups and downs. I think at this point I gotta take what I can from the first half and try to finish strong. I know I haven't had many seasons where I made 20, 25 starts, but I think that's something I can have my eye on going into the second half. And I think I put myself in a position to do that."
The Giants got significant production out of the No. 8 spot in the lineup during the weekend sweep. Casali hit in front of the pitcher Friday and Sunday, finishing 4-for-6 with two homers and five RBIs. Saturday's No. 8 hitter, Thairo Estrada, was 4-for-5 with three RBIs.
Martinez explained the Nats' trouble with the No. 8 hitter by saying pitchers needed to locate better.
"Bad location of a pitch a couple times," the manager said. "Like I said, when you fall behind, you got to attack hitters and that's what's going to happen."
Washington has lost four straight games and nine of 11 heading into the break for a 42-47 record.
"Obviously, we did want to win today, but you know what? Hey, we're gonna have a short break here, regroup and come back - and come back strong," Martinez said. "We still got a lot of season left and I'm excited about that."
Added veteran Ryan Zimmerman, who flew out as a pinch-hitter in the seventh: "It's been obviously up and down. We've dealt with a lot of injuries, just like kind of every team does. But I think the important thing is we're still in a position to do something. We'll enjoy the break and come back ready to go and obviously have to get off to a good start after the break. ... The good thing is we're not out of it."
The Nationals had trouble connecting with the bread-and-butter cutter thrown by Gausman, and the only thing they had to show for the first two innings was an infield single by Starlin Castro, who extended his hitting streak to 14 games. But Castro got picked off at first to end the second inning.
Early in his career, Gausman threw the cutter sparingly. But since he's made it his go-to pitch, he's flourished.
"He's different. I mean, he's attacking way different than his earlier years," Martinez said of Gausman. "He's using a four-seam fastball, his cutter and a split. They're all very good pitches and he throws them for strikes. He was tough today."
The Giants took a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the second. Brandon Crawford singled to right and, with one out, Steven Duggar shot a bad-hop single past second baseman Alcides Escobar. Casali then crushed a three-run homer to center off an 0-1 sinker from Fedde.
Fedde wiggled out of another jam in the Giants third, when a passed ball by Tres Barrera put runners on second and third with one out. But Fedde fanned Duggar looking, intentionally walked Casali to load the bases and got Gausman swinging to end the frame.
"He started off a little erratic, couldn't quite find the strike zone," Martinez said of Fedde. "Then he settled in and threw the ball well. Like I said, he just couldn't find that strike zone early. He was behind a lot of hitters. As you can see, as the game went on, he threw the ball better."
Fedde was done after five innings, having thrown 95 pitches. He allowed three runs on eight hits, walked three and fanned seven.
With his pitch count rising in the seventh inning, Gausman was having trouble locating his cutter and splitter, turning instead to his four-seam fastball. But the Nationals adjusted, with Soto and Bell drawing walks and Castro singling (the Nats' first non-infield hit) to load the bases on Gausman's 102nd offering of the afternoon.
Dominic Leone relieved and got Castro to ground into a run-producing fielder's choice that would have been a double play but for first baseman LaMonte Wade Jr. failing to glove second baseman Solano's relay for an error. Leone retired pinch-hitter Ryan Zimmerman on a fly to short center and struck Victor Robles out on a 1-2 slider to hold the score at 3-1.
In the ninth, Castro hit a two-out double off closer Jake McGee - the Nats' first hit against the Giants bullpen on the afternoon - but Josh Harrison lined out to second to end it.