BALTIMORE – The Nationals, believe it or not, haven’t been shut out often this season. Tuesday night’s 1-0 loss to the Orioles was only their eighth shutout loss this year. Only seven major league clubs have failed to score fewer times in 2023.
There are two odd facts about the Nats’ shutouts, though. They’ve all come in April, August or September. And three of them have now come at the hands of the Orioles.
The Nationals were shut out four times in the season’s first 18 games, including back-to-back times by Baltimore on South Capitol Street. One of those was a 1-0 loss to Dean Kremer. The other was a 4-0 loss to Kyle Bradish.
Wouldn’t you know Tuesday’s game was a 1-0 loss to Bradish, who tossed the first eight innings before handing over the ninth to closer Yennier Cano.
Tuesday also was the Nats’ fourth shutout loss in their last 43 games, these recent offensive struggles coming after a long streak in which they always scored runs. They went 97 games from mid-April to early-August without ever being shut out.
It hasn’t happened often, but the pattern for many of these games has been established. The Nationals don’t draw many walks (they managed only two on Tuesday night). They don’t hit for power (they managed all of three singles and zero extra-base hits on Tuesday night). And they don’t work deep counts (Bradish completed eight innings on a mere 104 pitches).
All told, the Nats sent 31 batters to the plate, averaging only 3.77 pitches seen per plate appearance.
“Look, this guy (Bradish) was around the plate pretty much,” manager Davey Martinez said. “I tell them all the time: If you get a good pitch to hit, you can’t fall behind on him, because he mixes up his pitches well. The fact is, when you get a good pitch to hit, we’ve got to hit them. Today, we just didn’t do that.”
* The only run scored Tuesday night came via the Orioles’ first batter of the game, with Gunnar Henderson homering off Josiah Gray to give his team a quick 1-0 lead. Little did anyone realize at the time how much of a chore it would be to push runners across the plate.
Henderson, though, came awfully close to scoring another run late in the game. With two outs in the bottom of the eighth, the dynamic Baltimore rookie danced off third base and bolted for home in an attempt to catch Nationals reliever Robert Garcia off guard.
Neither Garcia not catcher Keibert Ruiz were fooled. Ruiz immediately jumped up and positioned himself at the plate. Garcia managed to keep his calm and throw the ball directly to Ruiz, who tagged the sliding Henderson for a big out to end the inning and keep the deficit at one run.
“Great awareness from him,” Martinez said of Garcia. “He didn’t panic at all. He just stepped off and threw it home. Typically, some guys will panic and balk in that situation, but he didn’t. He did a great job.”
As did Ruiz, who saw the entire play develop in front of his eyes.
“I was surprised,” the catcher said. “That’s good baseball. They’re playing good baseball. That’s why they’re in the playoffs. But Garcia and I got him on that play.”