WASHINGTON -- In a series unlike few others in their brief history in Washington, the Nationals learned quite a bit about this year's team.
They learned they can battle with the best, as evidenced by Saturday's 14-inning affair with the American League East-leading Yankees. They always knew they had the pitching, as three quality starts in as many games proved. But they also learned there's a lot left to prove before they can finally consider themselves a legitimate contender, as this weekend's three-game sweep at the hands of the Yankees proved.
In Sunday afternoon's 4-1 loss to New York, the Nats mustered only seven hits to spoil a fair but unusually inefficient start from Edwin Jackson. Entering Sunday, Jackson had been the Nationals' most efficient pitcher with an average of 3.5 pitchers per plate appearance, seventh best in baseball.
But the Yankees' patient approach at the plate quickly elevated Jackson's pitch count. By the third inning, Jackson had already reached 60 pitches, hindering his ability to match his team-high 6.68 innings pitched per start. In six innings on the mound, Jackson threw 110 pitches, surrendering two earned runs on seven hits with one strikeout and three walks.
"They made me work today," Jackson said. "I threw over 100 pitches in six innings; that's what they're notorious for doing -- making the pitcher work the pitch count. All in all, I came off the field giving the team a chance to win. As a starter, that's your job."
In comparison, Yankees starter Ivan Nova was able to last 7 2/3 innings while allowing one run on seven hits, striking out four batters and walking one -- all while throwing just 97 pitches. He improved to 9-2 on the season, while Jackson fell to 3-4.
The Yankees struck quickly in the first inning, as Derek Jeter led off with an infield single and Curtis Granderson doubled down the right-field line. Two batters later, Jackson intentionally walked Robinson Cano to load the bases and bring the double play into effect. But Mark Teixeira lofted a sacrifice fly high toward center, scoring Jeter.
The Nationals responded almost immediately, as Adam LaRoche led off the bottom of the second with a home run to right field. LaRoche also picked up a double in the fourth inning, but he was stranded at third. He finished 2-for-4 at the plate, one of only two Nationals with more than one hit.
Bryce Harper, one day after enduring an 0-for-7, five-strikeout game, bounced back on Sunday by going 2-for-4 with a double.
After the game, Harper alluded to the Yankees' patience at the plate as the key difference in the game.
"They're veteran guys," he said. "They know how to swing it and what they're looking for, what they want to hit. That's why their numbers are so good, and that's why they can swing it. All of our guys threw it well."
Jackson continued to exert himself but managed to hold the Yankees in check until the fifth inning, when Granderson homered to right field, his 21st of the year. After the sixth inning, Jackson was pulled for left-hander Tom Gorzelanny. The Yankees pounced quickly in the seventh, as Cano homered with one out and Teixeira followed with a double. Teixeira finished 3-for-4 with two doubles and an RBI.
"I got a couple pitches up in the zone," Teixeira said. "That's the key against good pitchers. We faced three really good starting pitchers [this weekend]. We faced a lot of great arms out of the bullpen. We didn't score a ton of runs, but enough to win a few games."
After a Raul Ibanez groundout advanced Teixeira to third, Ryan Mattheus entered the game for Gorzelanny. Mattheus was activated from the disabled list prior to the game when Brad Lidge was designated for assignment. After pitching in 41 games earlier this season, Mattheus went on the DL on May 20 with plantar fasciitis in his left foot. His first batter was Andruw Jones, whom he walked on six pitches -- the last of which got by catcher Jhonatan Solano for a passed ball, scoring Teixeira from third.
Solano was starting in place of Jesus Flores, who got the day off after catching all 14 innings the night before.
The Nationals put six runners in scoring position over the course of the game, but mustered only seven hits. The middle of their lineup sputtered over the course of the weekend, especially Ryan Zimmerman, who finished 0-for-4 on Sunday.
"Offensively, we're just coming up a little short," manager Davey Johnson said. "One thing that concerns me, we've got to get Zim going. We've got to get Zim in a happy place."
In the month of June, Zimmerman is hitting just .200 with 11 hits in 13 games. Though Johnson said, "I'm not totally sure," when asked about the health of his third baseman, Zimmerman, who missed two weeks in late April and early May with a sore right shoulder, said he was fully healthy.
"Obviously, I'm not doing as well as I want to," he said. "I think any time you're not getting hits like that, something has to change. I've just got to keep working hard and keep doing the same things I've been doing my whole career. It'll turn around."
Mike Fiammetta is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.