WASHINGTON -- After spending 12 games with Triple-A Iowa earlier this season, Chris Volstad strung together a series of solid outings in August. But on Wednesday night, the Nationals pounced on him early and often en route to a 9-1 win at Nationals Park.
Volstad lasted only five innings, allowing five runs on nine hits with four walks. He threw 89 pitches -- only 46 strikes -- and surrendered three home runs, all in the third. After Roger Bernadina led off with a blast to center field, Bryce Harper smacked the next pitch from Volstad off the wall behind the Cubs' bullpen in left-center. Following a Ryan Zimmerman single, Adam LaRoche capped the Nats' four-run inning with a two-run shot to left.
"I felt like my stuff was basically how it's been the last couple of games," Volstad said. "Just a four-hitter stretch with two pitches elevated and another full-count pitch, just put a good swing on it. But the four hitters got me, and it happened quickly. Next thing you know, they put four [runs] on the board."
Nats left-hander Gio Gonzalez kept the Cubs hitless in front of 21,244 fans until Darwin Barney led off the sixth with a single. The Cubs had only one baserunner before that, as Josh Vitters reached base on a throwing error by shortstop Ian Desmond to lead off the third.
"It wasn't definitely my night. It was the team's night," Gonzalez said. "These guys were swinging the bat. You look at the way they were going about it; we did that again [on Tuesday], so it seems like we are locked in. We are looking at something and we are staying on track."
With one out and a 1-0 count to Michael Morse in the bottom of the fifth, Cubs manager Dale Sveum was ejected by home-plate umpire Larry Vanover, presumably for arguing balls and strikes from the dugout. Sveum then sprinted onto the field and got in Vanover's face, prompting crew chief and first-base umpire Jerry Lane to intervene.
"I just didn't appreciate him eyeballing our dugout for absolutely no reason at all," Sveum said. "I just don't think that's right when you're looking in our dugout for no apparent reason at all."
After Tony Campana pinch-hit for Volstad in the sixth, right-hander Michael Bowden entered in relief. After retiring Bernadina to lead off the bottom frame, Bowden served up another first-pitch home run to Harper that landed in the second deck in right field.
The Cubs first put runners into scoring position in the sixth, when Starlin Castro singled with two outs and Welington Castillo's double advanced him to third. But after a brief meeting on the mound with Nats pitching coach Steve McCatty, Gonzalez retired Vitters on a five-pitch strikeout.
Gonzalez lasted seven innings, keeping the Cubs scoreless on three hits with nine strikeouts and no walks.
Rookie right-hander Blake Parker relieved Bowden in the seventh and allowed back-to-back homers to the first two batters he faced, Desmond and Danny Espinosa. Kurt Suzuki ripped a single to left field before Chad Tracy pinch-hit for Gonzalez and walked. After Bernadina lined out to right, Harper walked on four pitches to loaded the bases. That ended Parker's night after one-third of an inning in which he allowed three runs on three hits and two walks.
"Of all the teams we've played, this is by far the best team," Sveum said. "That's like an American League lineup, too, with guys that can hit the ball a long way and grind at-bats out and take advantage of any mistake that's thrown."
Alberto Cabrera took the mound and Luis Valbuena entered in a double switch for Vitters at third base. Cabrera walked Zimmerman to score Suzuki before retiring the next two batters to escape the inning.
Jaye Chapman, who made his Major League debut on Tuesday, pitched a 1-2-3 eighth with two strikeouts. Anthony Rizzo hit a mammoth homer in the ninth for Chicago's lone run.
Without Volstad's rough third inning, the Cubs' bullpen could've been afforded an easier path. But in acknowledging his four poor pitches, Volstad expressed confidence he'll be able to rebound moving forward.
"I can still come back, I've been feeling really good," Volstad said. "Things like this are going to happen. Early in the season, it was more often than not. Lately, it's been not as often. You can have one game like this and then seven starts to come back."
Mike Fiammetta is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.