Sifting through another game the Nats would like to forget

I was thinking about writing another “Taking the good with the bad” blog post this morning, but I realized there wasn’t enough good to match up with all the bad we saw last night in the Nationals’ 4-2 loss to the Giants.

On the same night that the Braves tied their game in the bottom of the ninth inning and then won it with a walk-off in the 10th, the Nats saw their 2-1 lead disappear in the ninth and then were sent home in the 10th when Pablo Sandoval demolished a Yunesky Maya changeup deep into the bleachers in right-center.

The Nationals were left with a 23-23 record and surely a mediocre night’s sleep.

Stephen Strasburg was one of the lone positives last night, bouncing back from a slow start and showing great mental fortitude - which he has sometimes lacked - over his seven strong innings.

Strasburg might be turning a corner from a mental perspective, learning how to fight when he hits some adversity, which is a fantastic thing for both the right-hander and the Nationals.

Outside of Strasburg’s effort, and perhaps Ian Desmond getting back on track offensively with two hits, there wasn’t much at all for Nats fans to like about last night’s performance.

The Nats put up two runs in the first inning and then saw their offense go into shutdown mode again. They again failed to add on runs in the middle and late innings, and now have scored in just one of 18 frames this series.

Bryce Harper laid down two sacrifice bunts, and manager Davey Johnson told reporters after the game that neither of those bunts were called from the dugout. Harper - who leads the Nationals in home runs, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage - twice was bunting on his own.

He’s scuffling offensively right now (batting .136 with a .278 on-base percentage over his last 15 games) and is trying to help the team any way he can, but if I’m Johnson, I want Harper swinging and swinging big every time he steps into the batter’s box.

Rafael Soriano got too much of the plate with a two-out, two-strike pitch to Gregor Blanco in the ninth, so he deserves his share of blame for his third blown save of the season. But Harper pulled his arm back as Blanco’s fly ball got near the warning track in right-center, and what might’ve been a catchable third out turned into the game-tying RBI.

You can’t entirely fault Harper for feeling the wall creeping up on him and getting the old alligator arm going for Blanco’s fly ball after what happened in Los Angeles over a week ago. It’s only natural for memory of Harper’s vicious collision with the right field fence at Dodger Stadium to stick with him for a little bit, but he’ll need to find a way to get past that soon. Many more warning track fly balls will be heading his way.

He took a shallow route to the ball last night, perhaps trying to avoid dealing with the track altogether, and then made his leap despite having plenty of space before needing to navigate the brick wall. Given Harper’s grittiness and work ethic, we can be sure he’ll make adjustments and learn, however.

That play involving Harper in the ninth brought in the game-tying run. The game-winner involved a teammate of Harper’s at Triple-A Syracuse last season.

It’s easy to second-guess Johnson after the fact, but his decision to bring right-hander Yunesky Maya into a tie game in the 10th against the top of the Giants’ order when the Nats had a rested Drew Storen in the ‘pen is certainly a questionable one.

Maya had been scheduled to pitch in Toledo last night, and instead took an early cross-country flight out west to join the Nats in San Francisco after learning he’d been called up. He had pitched well at the Triple-A level lately, but it had been nearly two years since Maya’s last big league appearance and he was set to go against three tough hitters in Angel Pagan, Marco Scutaro and Sandoval.

Johnson’s goal was surely to have Maya try and help save a tired bullpen, but Storen hadn’t pitched in Monday’s game and is the more proven option. Again, easy to say in hindsight, but even before Maya threw his first pitch last night, bringing him on in that spot seemed like a questionable move.

The Nats now will try and salvage the finale of this 10-game west coast trip. If they’re unable to do so, they’ll head back east with just three wins on the road trip and a sub-.500 record for the season. That wouldn’t make for a fun plane ride.

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