Nats put up little resistance in shutout loss to D-backs (updated)

It’s still too early in the season to call a series truly meaningful, not with the calendar still showing June and with more games left on the schedule than have been played to date.

But the Nationals haven’t been in this position in a while, so why not get a little excited about a mid-June three-game set against the defending National League champs, both teams smack dab in the middle of a wild card race that features a host of teams sitting just below the .500 mark, waiting for someone to make a move.

The result of tonight’s game doesn’t necessarily portend anything about what’s still to come over the next 3 1/2 months, but it wasn’t exactly a positive showing by the home team. A 5-0 loss to the Diamondbacks was about as unexciting as it gets, with Jake Irvin laboring early and a punchless lineup completely rendered ineffective by three Arizona pitchers.

The Nats (35-37) didn’t much look the part of a surprise contender, not on this night. The Diamondbacks (36-37) looked much more like the team that squeaked into the 2023 postseason with 84 regular season wins and then rode the wave all the way to a World Series loss to the Rangers.

Davey Martinez can only hope for a better showing the next two afternoons.

"For me, I'm going to try to go back and flush this one," the manager said. "We're playing well. I'm not going to try to dwell on it. Just come back ready to play tomorrow."

Irvin’s ascension so far this season has been built on the foundation of a few simple-to-understand, difficult-to-achieve mantras: Throw strikes and keep the ball in the park. He entered the day issuing only 1.7 walks per nine innings, way down from 4.0 a year ago. And he allowed a scant 0.8 homers per nine innings, down from 1.5 last season.

So it took only two batters tonight to realize Irvin wasn’t his usual self. He opened the game with a five-pitch walk of Corbin Carroll. Then (after Carroll successfully stole second) he served up a two-run homer to Ketel Marte on a curveball over the plate. Two batters, two runs, two previously rare results for Irvin.

"He walked the first batter of the game," Martinez said. "That's not usually what he does."

The right-hander never really looked in sync throughout the evening. He issued leadoff walks in the first, second and third innings, surpassing his season-high only 10 batters in. He issued another in the fourth, adding to a high pitch count.

"I can't really pinpoint it," Irvin said. "I just didn't have great command of my fastball tonight. That's not a recipe for success, and I put myself in some really bad counts."

The Diamondbacks did reach on some weak contact, including three infield singles and a bloop double. But they also hit the ball quite hard on occasion, from Marte’s first-inning homer to Carroll’s RBI triple in the fifth.

The only thing that kept Irvin from suffering through a truly miserable night: He somehow recorded four straight inning-ending double plays, getting out of the second, third, fourth and fifth with less damage than he might otherwise have suffered.

"That's the design: Trying to get guys to get me two outs as quick as possible," he said. "The defense played great today. A few double plays. Shoutout to those guys. They got me out of quite a few jams."

Even so, Irvin was clearly done after the fifth inning, his pitch count up to 97 on a brutally muggy June evening.

It didn’t help matters one bit that the Nationals lineup routinely gave Irvin as little time as possible to cool down between innings. They stepped up to bat against Slade Cecconi ready to swing. And within seconds, they usually were making their way back to the dugout after making quick outs.

Cecconi threw a grand total of 70 pitches through six scoreless innings. Only three batters reached against him: Jesse Winker, who doubled in the fourth, and CJ Abrams, who singled in the fourth and sixth. Abrams, though, was immediately thrown out trying to steal second, killing any potential momentum.

The outs came in rapid succession. The Nationals didn’t draw any walks. It requires four balls to reach first base in that manner. They never even got to three balls against the Diamondbacks starter.

"He was outstanding tonight," said Winker, the only man to reach scoring position in the game. "He was commanding both sides, up and down. He's very talented, and he had a great night tonight. Hat's off to him."

And it got no better once Arizona manager Torey Lovullo turned to his bullpen. Justin Martinez needed seven pitches to navigate his way through the bottom of the seventh. Bryce Jarvis also needed seven pitches to navigate his way through the bottom of the eighth, then 12 more to finish off the bottom of the ninth, bringing the total number of pitches seen by the Nationals tonight to a scant 96.

They already trailed by five runs by the time the D-backs bullpen took over, so maybe it made little difference how quickly they made their outs. But it certainly didn’t make for an enjoyable ballgame to watch on a hot, muggy D.C. night.

"We're a good offense," said Winker, whose team averages 4.01 runs per game, 23rd out of 30 major league clubs. "So it's really just going to be keep doing what we've been doing. They all pitched really well, and that happens in this league. You have to tip your cap, come back out tomorrow and hopefully we have a better day."

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