Two homers not nearly enough for Nats in fifth straight loss (updated)

PHILADELPHIA – For the first time in a week, the Nationals hit a ball out of the park. Two of them, as a matter of fact. It was a welcome sight for a power-starved, run-starved lineup.

Then again, it doesn’t matter much when those two long-awaited home runs proved to be your only hits of the day until the eighth inning. Even more so when your pitching staff falls apart during the critical two-inning stretch that loomed large in what wound up a lopsided 11-5 loss to the Phillies.

Eddie Rosario and Jesse Winker’s blasts off Aaron Nola weren’t nearly enough for the Nats, who saw the game come undone in the fifth and sixth innings and wound up dropping their fifth straight game in the process.

Runs have been in short supply during the losing streak, the Nationals scoring a grand total of 10 in these five games. Even so, they were still in prime to position to win each of the previous four games, not to mention every other game on this 2-7 trip, thanks to stellar pitching that kept every game close.

"I feel like we've played a ton of games on the road, and they've all been really close," said Winker, whose team indeed has played far more games on the road (28) than at home (17). "We ran into Boston, who I think has one of the best ERAs in baseball right now. Then we ran into Chicago, who is playing really well and pitched lights out. And then you come to Philly, and they have the best record in baseball. It was nine really good baseball games. You hang your hat on that, then you get back home tomorrow and get some home cooking and give it hell."

The stretch of tight ballgames came to an abrupt halt today. Trevor Williams was charged with three runs in only 4 1/3 innings, and relievers Jacob Barnes, Robert Garcia and Jordan Weems combined to allow five more runs during the next 1 2/3 innings, turning a tight game into a near-blowout. A three-run homer surrendered by Tanner Rainey (making his first game appearance in 15 days) did turn it into a full-fledged blowout.

"Our bullpen's been doing a great job," said Davey Martinez, whose relievers entered the day with a 3.35 ERA. "Today was one of those days it didn't happen."

After a miserable stretch trying and failing to produce in clutch situations, the Nationals apparently decided the best way to score runs was to stop taking at-bats with runners in scoring position and just hit homers instead. It had been a week since their last hit cleared the fence, that one provided by Rosario at Fenway Park. And wouldn’t you know who ended the streak today?

Rosario somehow turned on an inside 0-2 fastball from Nola in the top of the fourth, driving it to right for a two-run homer, not to mention the Nats’ first hit of the day off the Phillies right-hander. It was only the team’s sixth home run in two weeks, and remarkably five of those were hit by Rosario.

Winker joined the show one inning later, launching a 406-foot shot to right-center to give the Nationals a 3-2 lead and leave the sellout crowd murmuring. The visitors had two hits on the day, but each was a homer, and because of that they actually had the lead.

"I thought we'd loosen up once we hit those two home runs," Martinez said. "But Nola settled down and kept us off-balance. And we didn't get anything going until later in the game."

Winker’s big hit was merely one act on an eventful day for the veteran outfielder, who made most of his noise in the field. He made a spectacular diving catch of Alec Bohm’s sinking liner to left in the second. Then he crashed into the wall to rob Brandon Marsh of extra bases in the fourth, banging his right knee in the process.

It was a play not made by Winker, though, that helped contribute to a disastrous bottom of the fifth for the Nationals.

The inning began with Williams taking the mound, his pitch count (83) already beyond the point his manager usually finds comfortable with the right-hander. Williams would face only two batters, getting Johan Rojas on a line out to center before walking Kyle Schwarber. Those two long plate appearances drove up his pitch count to a season-high 97, and that’s as far as Martinez was willing to push him.

"It's a tremendous lineup, and we're familiar with what they can do," Williams said. "Today, they did a great job of making me work. I felt like every batter, I was 2-2 and they were fouling pitches off. They did a great job today of making me work deep counts, and it showed by me not going through five."

Two more tough left-handed hitters (Bryson Stott, Bryce Harper) were due up for the Phillies, but Martinez was hoping to save his only left-handed reliever (Garcia) for their next trip through the order. So in came Barnes, who promptly made a mess of things by walking Stott and allowing a single to Harper.

A sacrifice fly by Bohm brought home the tying run and brought Martinez out of the dugout to pull Barnes in favor of Garcia, who after all that wound up pitching in the fifth inning anyway, not against the big three lefties at the top of the lineup but the less-feared Kody Clemens.

"They had all those lefties at the bottom, too," Martinez said. "Jacob's been throwing the ball really well. We thought we'd keep him, and then if they made the switch to the righties for the next couple innings, we had all those righties in there. So my calculation was to try to keep Garcia for the bottom of the order. We thought Jacob could handle the top. The key there was the walk to Stott."

Garcia might’ve gotten out of the inning when Clemens lofted a high fly ball down the left field line that drifted foul. But Winker, taking a circuitous route and perhaps spooked by the wall after his earlier collision, couldn’t get there and watched the ball fall in foul territory to extend the at-bat. Moments later, Clemens lined a two-run double to right, giving the Phillies the lead. A subsequent RBI single by Nick Castellanos extended the lead and turned the entire inning into a mess for the Nationals.

"I just got a bad read, and it kind of kept drifting on me," Winker said. "That's a ball I have to catch. And unfortunately, not getting that kind of changed the game. It's a bummer."

It got no better in the sixth, with Harper doubling off Weems to stretch the lead to 8-3. Given the Nats’ offensive woes, that five-run hole felt even deeper. Imagine how deep it felt once the deficit grew to eight runs.

Game 47 lineups: Nats vs. Twins
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