The Nationals battled back to force extra innings against the Padres on Saturday. But then it all unraveled in the 10th inning as the Nats' beleaguered bullpen was again unable to string together quick outs and San Diego rolled up six runs to turn the game inside out.
The Padres downed the Nationals 8-3 in 10 innings to win the series. The Nats are a now season-low three games under .500 at 11-14 and have lost three in a row and six of their last eight.
In the 10th, the Nats employed three different relievers. Each was unable to get the first batter out. The Padres tallied six runs on three hits to put the game away.
Nationals manager Davey Martinez after the game repeated a familiar refrain about his relievers. Stephen Strasburg set the club up well by allowing only two runs in seven innings. But the bullpen could not finish the job.
"We got a problem in our bullpen and we got to fix it," Martinez said. "Like I said, it's going to take more than two or three guys in that bullpen to step up. It really is. Today, we saw Joe (Ross) come in and do a great job. Doo comes in and do what Doolittle does. (Wander) Suero, who's been pretty good, just couldn't get it done today. But all these guys, we need all these guys.
"If we're going to win consistently, we need all those guys to pitch well in the bullpen. I just want them to go out there and pitch with conviction. Know who you are, throw the pitch you need to throw with conviction, and whatever happens, happens."
Facing Suero, pinch-hitter Ty France singled up the middle. Francisco MejÃa doubled down the right field line to put runners on second and third with no outs. Greg Garcia's sacrifice fly to left field scored France and the Padres led 3-2. Suero then walked Fernando Tatis Jr. and Wil Myers.
Suero allowed four runs on two hits with two walks, and said he had problems commanding his pitches today, especially his cutter.
"To start with, I have a very difficult pitch to control, which is my fastball cutter," Suero said via team interpreter Octavio Martinez. "Sometimes it moves more than I would like it to. Today was just one of those days where the ball ... and not only that, but all my pitches I was just not locating the way I would like to. But I stay positive and hope things will change."
Justin Miller relieved Suero and hit Manny Machado with a pitch with the bases loaded. That scored a run to make it 4-2. Manuel Margot added a two-run single to left field and it was 6-2 Padres.
Matt Grace came on in relief of Miller and walked Eric Hosmer. Renfroe hit a sacrifice fly to center field to score another run. Center fielder Victor Robles threw the ball back to the infield wildly, and it got away from catcher Yan Gomes. That allowed another run to cross the plate - the umpires' call upheld after a lengthy review - and the Padres led 8-2.
Martinez said his veterans had a calming influence on the team after the game, and no one is pointing fingers. The bullpen struggled again, but the offense had opportunities to win the game in regulation and came up short.
"We got a lot of veterans in that clubhouse, and what's good is that they came in and said we'll get 'em tomorrow," Martinez said. "We're going through some rough times, but they really believe they're good, and I believe they're really good, so they got to come back in and be ready to play tomorrow."
But first baseman Ryan Zimmerman - who went 1-for-5 and whose hotshot liner to deep right field was caught by Hunter Renfroe to end the game - said there were no big speeches or ultimatums after the game, despite the club's third loss in a row.
"Nobody spoke today," Zimmerman said. "It's not like we're trying to go out there and do this stuff. I think sometimes, too, when you start having meetings or someone saying something after games ... We're grown-ups. We're professionals. We know what we need to do. It's just a matter of going out there and doing it."
Cohesion and staying together is important, Zimmerman went on. The offense will never openly criticize the pitching. That's always the unwritten rule of team baseball.
"We're obviously a team," he said. "There's going to be different parts of the team that do well during the year at some point. Those same parts will do bad at some parts as well, so ... Keep sticking up for each other, keep trusting each other. Everyone says it's early. You don't want to keep saying that. You want to win games, obviously. But if you're going to play as bad as we've been playing, it's better to do it now so we can recover."
The Nationals remained patient versus Padres left-handed starter Eric Lauer. Facing an early 2-0 deficit, the Nats came back to tie the game in the sixth. Robles walked and Juan Soto launched a second deck two-run shot to right field for his fifth homer of the season. It was only their second hit of the game off of Lauer. For Soto, it was a rare moment this season that a pitcher threw him a fastball. He did not blink.
Strasburg matched his performance from last Sunday's 5-0 win over the Marlins. Strasburg twirled seven innings today, allowing only two runs on four hits with nine strikeouts to just one walk.
He threw 100 pitches, 66 for strikes, earning strikeouts with his four-seam fastball, changeup and curveball. In the sixth inning he struck out the side using those three pitches to gain the swinging third strikes to Myers, Machado and Franmil Reyes.
The Padres got on the board versus Strasburg in the second. Eric Hosmer walked. Renfroe followed with a two-run shot, his second homer in as many at-bats in the series. San Diego led 2-0. But Strasburg allowed only two more hits to keep San Diego at bay.
The game went into extra innings after Sean Doolittle shut down the Padres in the ninth and Luis Perdomo struck out the side in the bottom of the inning.
Howie Kendrick's solo homer in the bottom of the 10th, his fourth homer of the season, completed the scoring for the Nats, who are now 1-3-1 in home series, losing three series in a row overall.
Zimmerman has seen this all before. A lot of players said last season that "it was early" and they could turn it around. Unfortunately, they were never able to, and the team finished 82-80 and out of the playoffs. Despite the troubles the team is facing in the season's first 25 games this time, Zimmerman said the only way to get out of it is to keep playing.
"You've just got to keep going," he said. "I think it's frustrating. You want to win every game. Guys aren't trying to fail. It's not for lack of effort or lack of preparation. Just haven't been doing what we should be doing. Just have to stick with it. Keep grinding it out. Keep working. There's a lot of season left.
"That being said, doesn't mean you can't start turning it around tomorrow. You can keep saying, 'Oh, it's early.' You can't say 'Oh we have a lot of games left,' because pretty soon it's not early and you don't have a lot of games left. Obviously, there's that, but you just have to keep going."