Defensively challenged Nats can’t execute under pressure

BOSTON - In the last 103 years, plenty of Hall of Fame managers have sat in the same office in the bowels of historic Fenway Park having just watched the Red Sox defeat their team. Few couldn’t have been as frustrated as Nationals manager Matt Williams was after seeing his ballclub fall 9-4 in the fashion they did in Boston’s home opener.

“About as bad as you can get,” said Williams. “It’s tough to win ballgames when you can’t catch the baseball. It’s gotta get better than that.”

Only Nats shortstop Ian Desmond was charged with an error, his fifth, but there were numerous miscues that led to plenty of runs and starter Jordan Zimmermann’s early exit after giving up eight runs in just 2 1/3 innings.

“Well, it’s not shocking to have a pitcher that doesn’t have a good day,” said Williams. “But if you don’t help him, it makes the day even worse. He had opportunities to get out of a couple innings there and couldn’t get out of them because we didn’t catch the baseball. That being said, it’ll get better. It’s gotta get better.”

Taylor-Drops-Ball.jpgThe Nats misplayed two easy fly balls in the third inning alone, helping the Red Sox run four across the plate. Center fielder Michael A. Taylor was involved on both plays. The first off the bat of Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli sent Taylor and Nats left fielder Jayson Werth back to the warning track. Taylor called off Werth but then lost the ball as it fell cleanly onto the warning track, loading the bases. A few batters later, former Nats catcher Sandy Leon lifted a ball to right field that right fielder Bryce Harper and Taylor converged on. A quick bout of indecision between the two allowed the ball drop in.

“I think it was more of the conditions,” said Taylor. “We were talking out there, but you look up and the ball is one place, you look up again and it’s 10 feet somewhere else. It just makes it tough. I know for me, not playing here, it’s something that can be challenging. The wind wasn’t blowing hard during BP, so I didn’t get a chance to work on it. During the game, it was kinda swirling a little bit.”

Williams wasn’t interested in excuses after the game. He has watched his team give away runs in three of its first seven games.

“These are big league baseball players,” he said. “They’re here because they can catch the baseball. It’s not too much emphasis. Any time you go out there against a club like this and you don’t catch fly balls, they are going to kick your fanny. So we’ve gotta do a better job than we did today if we want to win games.”

The Nationals’ poor defense has spilled over from spring training, where they committed 35 errors in 31 games.

“It’s not preparation. I mean, we work every single day,” said a frustrated Williams. “Guys work their fannies off, but it’s gotta get better than that. We just don’t give ourselves a chance.”

It’s not just fielding either. Despite scoring four runs today, the Nats only managed four hits, as Red Sox starter Rick Porcello shut them down for the most part. Williams was asked if something is needed to light a fire under his team.

“We’re fully awake man. We’re fully awake,” Williams said. “Believe me. With all that’s been said about our club, we’re fully aware of it, fully awake.”

But that begs the question: Have the Nats have come into this season unable to handle the pressure of championship expectations?

“They were there last year,” said Williams. “It makes no difference. Nobody’s tight, nobody’s playing tight. It’s a function of catching it and making pitches and getting base hits. Nobody’s tight. Those expectations were there long before today.”

Werth, who went 0-for-3 with a strikeout in his season debut, is no stranger to being a part of teams with hype surrounding them. He’s not in panic mode yet.

“We’re not playing the type of ball we want to play at the moment, but a week ago, we were set to win the World Series as far as you guys were concerned,” said Werth. “And now, I don’t know where we’re at now. It’s the old cliche of, ‘Get ‘em tomorrow,’ and whatever you want to say. Obviously, put this one behind us and get ready for tomorrow’s game.”

The loss knocks Zimmermann to 1-1 on the young season. Poor fielding aside, he wasn’t exactly sharp today. He walked Red Sox center fielder Mookie Betts to lead off the game and Betts would later score. In the second, Betts rocked Zimmermann for a three-run homer deep over the Green Monster and out of Fenway Park. And he hit left fielder Hanley Ramirez and third baseman Pablo Sandoval to start the third. Both would later cross the plate.

“We’re not playing very good right now,” said Zimmermann. “It’s a long season. All it takes is a couple good streaks and we’re back in it. We’re not playing good ball. We’ll have to come back tomorrow and be ready to go.”

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