Sloppy start sinks Nats in loss to Blue Jays (updated)

When Jake Irvin last took the mound on Monday, the Nationals ended the day with a .500 record for the first time this late in the season since they were 40-40 entering July 2, 2021. Since then, they have had three chances to get above .500 for the first time since July 1, 2021, including today after last night’s comeback win over the Blue Jays.

So when Irvin took the mound on a cold and damp day at Nationals Park, the Nats must have liked their chances to finally post a record with more wins than losses.

But the Nats defense, which entered the day tied for the second-fewest errors committed in the major leagues, was as sloppy as the weather, handing the Blue Jays an early lead in an eventual 6-3 loss in front of 22,836 fans who endured the elements for “Star Wars” Weekend on South Capitol Street.

The sloppy play began right from the get-go, when Blue Jays leadoff hitter George Springer grounded to Nick Senzel but ended up on second base thanks to a throwing error by the Nats' third baseman. The throw one-hopped Trey Lipscomb, who didn’t do Senzel any favors by stopping the ball while making his third big league appearance at first base.

“It was a little wet. I didn't really have a good grip and didn't make too good of throws," Senzel said after finishing the game with two errors. "It sucks making two errors and not playing good defense behind Irv because he threw the ball well. It's not a great feeling.”

After a walk put two runners on, Irvin got Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to ground into what would have been a double play. But Luis García Jr. – trying to make the play by himself instead of tossing the ball to CJ Abrams at second – only recorded one out at second while throwing the ball high to Lipscomb at first.

Two singles, another error by Lipscomb trying to turn a double play from first base but throwing the ball into left field and an RBI double later, and the Blue Jays had quickly taken a 4-0 lead with Irvin’s pitch count climbing.

“It was bad. First inning was not good," manager Davey Martinez said after the loss. "We couldn't throw the ball to first base. So just one of those days, right? The weather was not good, but we should have made those plays. Jake threw the ball really well. We should have had a couple of double plays there. Just couldn't capitalize on that. ... Just one of those days. We've been playing really good defense and I harp on it all the time. Today just wasn't that day.”

“I feel really comfortable over there," Lipscomb said of his play at first base. "Feel good over there, getting a lot of early work in. It's only so much you can do in the prework and the pregame. Until you get into the game situation, things change a little bit. But trust your instincts and your good.”

The young right-hander finally recorded the last two outs, but he needed 35 pitches in the first when it was all said and done.

“Just trying to get as deep as possible after something like that," Irvin said. "Keep us in the game and just give us a chance to win moving inning-by-inning.”

To his credit, Irvin did everything he could for the rest of his outing to keep the damage there. He put two runners on in the second, but finally saw a grounder turned into a double play behind him to end the threat. And Springer reached in the fourth again via another error by Senzel, but Irvin left him stranded before pitching a perfect fifth to end his day.

“It's kind of just throwing strikes, keeping that trust in the defense and allowing those guys to make plays,” Irvin said.

All four runs scored on Irvin were unearned, so he actually lowered his ERA from 4.28 to 3.72 over his five innings. Five hits, one walk and four strikeouts finished his line on a season-high 107 pitches, 69 for strikes.

“He was good," Martinez said. "Like I said, we could've got out of the first inning maybe with just one run. Just couldn't play defense behind him. He was good all day. He gave us five good innings. After that first inning, he didn't give up any runs.”

“It's the competitive nature of the game," Irvin said. "Got to keep us in the ballgame and got to make sure that I do my part to give us a chance to win the game.”

The Nats offense was just as unproductive as the defense against Kevin Gausman, who gave hitters trouble all afternoon with his splitter.

Gausman, last year’s third-place runner-up for the American League Cy Young Award, threw his splitter 34 percent of the time. The Nats whiffed on 12 of the 25 swings they put on the pitch, as the right-hander recorded six of his eight strikeouts with it while holding the Nats to just three hits and two walks over 5 ⅓ scoreless innings.

“To be honest, I felt like we let him off the hook quite a bit," Senzel said. "And I think if you asked him, he didn't have his best stuff today. We just didn't get a big hit. I didn't do too much off him either, so it was just one of those days where we just didn't get a big hit. I thought we grinded out some at-bats. He didn't really have to find the zone too much. We just couldn't scratch one across.”

The Nats did a good job of raising Gausman’s pitch count to 112 in the fifth and found themselves in a similar, albeit larger, deficit than they were in last night. But alas, they could not overcome this one against the Toronto bullpen.

“I thought we worked some good at-bats," Martinez said. "Gausman's pretty good. We got deep in counts. We had some runners on base. … But he was good. He kept battling and we just couldn't get nothing going.”

Like last night, they put themselves in a good situation in the seventh. But unlike last night when García connected for a go-ahead three-run homer, Abrams’ blast fell a few feet short of a game-tying grand slam.

The Nats loaded the bases for Abrams with a walk, hit batter and another walk. Abrams crushed a high fastball from reliever Nate Pearson, but to the deepest part of the ballpark in center field, settling for a sacrifice fly. The ball came off the shortstop’s bat at 99 mph and had an expected batting average of .400.

That swing was their only hope.

Kevin Kiermaier then put the game away with his first homer of the year, a two-run shot off Derek Law in the eighth. García's RBI single in the ninth wasn't enough to complete the rally.

By the end of the day, the Nats had struck out 12 times, went 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position, left eight runners on base and committed four errors (the fourth by García fielding in the ninth).

Getting over .500 in the win percentage column will have to wait until at least this week against the Orioles in the Beltway Series. But this team still battles, with a chance to win a series and get back to .500 tomorrow.

“Just gotta come back and get them tomorrow," Martinez said. "We have a chance to win another series, so that's a good thing.”

Never tell them the odds.

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