ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Even facing two pitchers that were on target, it would be hard to ignore the Nationals struggles on offense against the Rays.
The Nats fell 1-0 Tuesday afternoon, just 17 hours after an 11-0 shutout. The offense mustered five hits in the two-game series. Sure Blake Snell was good, and so was Nathan Eovaldi, but the Nats went just 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position and struck out a whopping 23 times in the series. They went three-up and three-down 11 times in 18 innings.
Juan Soto had two hits. Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon and Daniel Murphy had the other hits. Harper and Rendon's doubles were the only extra base hits in the series for the Nats.
Starting pitcher scherzer Max Scherzer went seven innings, allowing only a fielder's choice RBI in the first inning. But now the Nats have now been shutout eight times this season, twice in this series.
Manager Davey Martinez understands that is greatest concern right now for his club.
"The lack of offense," said Martinez. "We just have to keep at them. We had our chances there at the end. We just couldn't come up with that hit at the end.
"It's going to come. There's a few days in a row where you see it. Honestly, yesterday we faced a pretty good pitcher and today he was pretty good himself. We just have to keep battling."
If the Nats are going to get the offense going, they cannot have a baserunning snafu like what occurred in the fourth inning. With one out and Adam Eaton on second and Harper on first, Eaton was caught off of second heading to third as Harper made it to second. The mistake derailed a big scoring chance for the Nats and was a familiar example of the club's struggles on the basepaths the last few weeks.
"He false broke," Martinez said of Eaton. "He thought he had it timed. He held the ball a split second longer so he stopped. Once you're at first and you see that, you put your head down and you go."
The ninth inning Tuesday was the final good opportunity the Nats had in the series to score a run. Harper walked to leadoff. After Rendon struck out, Soto and Murphy blooped back-to-back singles to load the bases.
But Trea Turner flew out to shallow right field and Michael A. Taylor struck out to end the game. Rays reliever Sergio Romo came off the mound and was wagging his finger at Taylor. Supposedly, this was in reaction to Taylor's stolen base against the Rays in D.C. when the Nats were up 9-2 in the sixth inning.
"Sergio was a little upset that we ran on him at home, which I didn't find a big deal," Martinez said. "If he gets mad, he should get mad at me, but don't show up one of our players. I know (Rays manager) Kevin Cash, he'll take care of that over there. Don't do that. He's been in this league long enough to know you don't do that kind of stuff."
"I understand the situation," Taylor said. "They're upset I stole a base at home in the sixth inning. In my mind, you saw how many runs they scored with nine outs yesterday. So, the game's not over. Obviously, they think differently, but I'm not worried about that. We lost the game. That's the only thing that upsets me. The talking and things like that, I'm not big on drama, so it's whatever."
Romo is the least of their worries right now. The bigger picture for the Nats right now is there offense, and what they need to do to fix it. Harper said they need to shake this off and get ready for the Phillies back in division play.
"I don't know if our bats were very good all around," Harper said. "We got to put that series behind us and do what we can have a good off day tomorrow and get going in Philly. Come in here and just ran into two guys that throw the ball well pretty dang well."
And Scherzer probably said it best: he won't get frustrated as a pitcher when the bats aren't hot, because he knows this club that can turn around quickly.
"You can't let it affect you," Scherzer said. "I think that's the biggest thing. I see these guys grinding. I know how much work they put in. Sometimes this is how it goes. Sometimes you get run support, sometimes you don't. The thing is you just can't get emotional about it and start letting affect how you pitch. You still got to be even keeled, go out there and still attack the hitters and work ahead in the count.
"I've pitched here long enough to know. I get it. We are going to hit the baseball. Right now we just got to continue to grind out these AB's and try to look forward. Just do the little things right. On the mound, continue to work ahead in the counts and play defense. Offense comes and goes. Hitting is contagious. Once we get some hits they'll start going."
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