Nats squander chances in 4-3 loss to Orioles (updated)

The way they jumped out to an early lead, this felt like a night that would see the Nationals keep putting runners on base and keep threatening to add to that lead. Turns out they wouldn’t score again, and the one time they seriously threatened, their rookie shortstop ran himself out of the inning.

This 4-3 loss to the Orioles was frustrating, though for different reasons than many previous losses were. There was no bullpen meltdown. There was no critical defensive mistake. There was no disastrous outing by the starting pitcher.

Instead, this one-run loss saw the Nationals lineup go cold after the third inning, then botch its last best chance to tie the game when CJ Abrams tried to advance to third base on a ground ball right in front of him to kill a sixth-inning rally.

"He's young and wanting to get to third base, knew he had to get to third base," manager Davey Martinez said. "But that situation, you've got to see the ball through. You've got to get back to second and see what happens. It's just a young mistake. He knew right away: He should've gone back."

Abrams, whose play of late has mostly been sensational, led off the inning with a double to the gap in left-center, knocking Baltimore starter Dean Kremer from the game. But when reliever Dillon Tate immediately got Israel Pineda to hit a sharp grounder to short, Abams took off for third, an ill-advised gamble.

Orioles shortstop Jorge Mateo made the routine throw to Gunnar Henderson, who applied the tag, and Abrams trotted back to the dugout having committed a cardinal baserunning sin.

"Probably should've just stayed," Abrams said. "I was just a little overaggressive in that situation. It won't happen again. It's a learning experience."

It wouldn’t have mattered much if the Nats had managed to mount another rally. But they were shut down by the Baltimore bullpen in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings, and wound up suffering their fourth straight loss after winning six of their previous eight.

With two scheduled off-days this week, the Nationals had the ability to reconfigure their rotation however they liked. They opted to give Josiah Gray and Paolo Espino extra rest, then start Cory Abbott in tonight’s series opener. The right-hander was coming off an outing in St. Louis he described as “very meh,” in which he allowed only one run but was pulled after throwing 88 pitches in only 4 1/3 innings.

How will Abbott feel about this one, in which he was charged with two runs but threw 72 pitches without recording an out in the fourth?

Abbott pitched with traffic on the bases all night but managed to mostly limit the damage. He gave up a first-inning run on Henderson’s two-out single but stranded two runners after that. He stranded the bases loaded in the second, exulting after striking out Anthony Santander to end the inning. He allowed only one baserunner in the third, but then was pulled after surrendering back-to-back singles in the fourth.

"He just worked extremely slow today," Martinez said. "We'll talk to him tomorrow about trying to pick up the pace a little bit more. Working like that, it lulls your defense to sleep. We've just got to get him to pick up the pace a little bit."

Needing to get out of an early jam, Martinez summoned one of his traditional late-inning relievers: Hunter Harvey, only two days after the oft-injured right-hander had thrown 39 pitches over two innings. Facing his former teammates, Harvey would induce a double play on his very first pitch, though a run did score on the play. But when he returned for a second inning of work, things quickly devolved.

Ryan Mountcastle led off the fifth driving a 99 mph fastball to right-center for the first home run off Harvey in 30 major league innings this season. Subsequent doubles by Henderson and Austin Hays brought home the go-ahead run and knocked Harvey out of the game after 27 pitches on a night when he admittedly let his emotions get the best of him.

"That was like debut adrenaline," he said of facing the Orioles, especially his good friend Mountcastle. "It don't come around very often. So it's hard to say this is how you handle that. I tried to get out of the middle (of the plate) as much as I could, but of course the one guy that I couldn't is the worst guy possible."

The Nationals had taken a 3-1 lead thanks to some clutch hits from some familiar names.

Joey Meneses (single) and Luis García (double) teamed up for a first-inning run. Then Ildemaro Vargas (single), Lane Thomas (double, extending his hit streak to 10 games), Luke Voit (RBI single) and García (RBI groundout) delivered for a pair of runs in the third.

But that’s all the Nats would score on a night in which opportunities were few and far between, and the best one that would come later was squandered.

"I thought we were swinging the bats well, and then just couldn't get it done with guys on base," Martinez said. "That's the key sometimes: To get those hits with guys on base. It didn't happen tonight."

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