PHILADELPHIA -- With two more bats scratched, again the Nationals couldn't claw their way to any significant run support of their starting pitcher Wednesday night at Citizens Bank Park.
Danny Espinosa's three-run homer in the ninth was far too late to save the Nationals in a 7-4 loss to the Phillies, so they can only hope that blow will be a spark for a team clearly feeling cornered in potential game-turning situations.
"If they do, it's self-imposed," said manager Jim Riggleman, who was ejected after supporting a clearly frustrated Adam LaRoche after the first baseman disagreed with a strike three called by home-plate umpire Alfonso Marquez in the fourth inning. "We try to keep letting them know to keep playing hard, play clean baseball -- we will come out of this.
"We will come out of this. In the meantime, you play to win the game -- you can't just start waiting to hit to win the game, and we have done a pretty good job of that, the pitchers have done such a great job.
"At some point you are going to lose games if you don't hit. But we got to keep our head above water until we unleash it offensively."
LaRoche, who entered Wednesday 3-for-27 with runners in scoring position, rarely argues, so when he did, Riggleman took note.
"I can't see anything in [the dugout]," said Riggleman. "Adam doesn't say anything, he is so composed and quiet. If he's complaining, I felt it was worthy of complaining."
Matt Stairs' 100th career pinch-hit, first among active players, preceded Espinosa's home run in the ninth. With Roy Halladay going for the Phillies in Thursday night's series finale against John Lannan, the outlook for an offensive breakout hardly brightens.
"Pressing is thinking you have to do everything," said Espinosa. "You want to challenge yourself to be on base -- I know I need to get on base, because otherwise they can pitch to the guys behind me any way they want to -- but you can't overdo it and put so much pressure on yourself that you go up there swinging at pitches you shouldn't swing at. It's a very fine line."
LaRoche eased his frustrations by driving home Espinosa in the sixth with a double off the base of the left-field wall, and down, 3-1, the Nationals had a glimmer of hope. But Placido Polanco backhanded Wilson Ramos' ground ball headed for the left-field corner and Ryan Howard scooped out the throw to end the frame. Then the Phillies put four hits together in the bottom of the sixth to knock out Jason Marquis, denying his bid to start the season 4-0 and putting the game away.
Marquis became the 30th Nationals pitcher in 30 games this season to make it through the fifth inning, but just barely, surrendering Raul Ibanez's leadoff homer in that frame and two more runs before being chased as the Phillies scored four more in the sixth.
"He's a ground-ball pitcher," said Riggleman. "They found holes, and it turned into a rally."
Washington's manager is certain his team will find some holes and stage some rallies, too, but first he has to find enough bodies to get through the nine-game trip, which will continue in Florida and Atlanta.
Rick Ankiel needed at least another day recovering from a sprained wrist, and Michael Morse was removed from the lineup just before the first pitch because of a sore knee. Replacements Jerry Hairston (in center for Ankiel for a second straight night) and Laynce Nix (in left for Morse) failed to put any pressure on Phillies starter Vance Worley, and with the exception of Alex Cora, who had three singles, the other survivors of the lineup continued to miss Ryan Zimmerman, who will out another six weeks.
Jay Greenberg is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.