Nats miss chances to stretch win streak
Williams struggles while Atlanta holds Washington down
WASHINGTON -- Last week, the Nationals were able to defeat Braves right-hander John Smoltz by scoring two runs at Turner Field. On Tuesday, they doubled their run total off Smoltz, but lost, 6-4, in front of 17,791 fans at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium.
For the Nationals, it was the case of a missed opportunity in the seventh inning and being behind the eight-ball again in the first frame.
Smoltz had a 5-2 lead going into the bottom of the seventh inning, but the Nationals chased him before the inning ended. With no outs, Chris Snelling tripled to drive in Brian Schneider and make it a two-run game.
Smoltz then left the game in favor of right-hander Oscar Villarreal. Austin Kearns came to the plate as a pinch-hitter and reached base on an error by third baseman Chipper Jones to put runners on first and third with no outs. Felipe Lopez then singled under the glove of shortstop Edgar Renteria to score Snelling and make it a one-run game.
The Nationals couldn't pull even. Ronnie Belliard came to the plate and was expected to get the bunt down to help advance the runners, but he couldn't get the job done. On Villarreal's first pitch, it looked like Belliard might have been hit by a pitch, but home plate umpire Bob Davidson called it a foul ball, saying the pitch struck off the knob of Belliard's bat. Manager Manny Acta came out to argue, but after talking to Belliard, who acted as if he wasn't hit, Acta went back to the dugout.
Belliard then tried to get the bunt down and fouled it off for strike two. With the bunt play off, Belliard struck out swinging on a 1-2 pitch.
"I was thinking about getting the bunt down. He just didn't execute," Acta said.
Nevertheless, the Nationals remained in a good situation when Ryan Zimmerman came to the plate after right-hander Rafael Soriano entered the game. With Soriano throwing nothing but fastballs, Zimmerman battled, but on the 11th pitch, Zimmerman struck out on a slider.
"There wasn't really much you could do about it," Zimmerman said. "You have to give credit to Soriano. He made pitches when he needed to."
Dmitri Young followed and had an 11-pitch at-bat, but he lined out to Ryan Langerhans deep in the left-field corner to end the frame.
"We had the right guys up, but it would have been a totally different situation if we were able to move the runners to second and third," Acta said.
Washington, hoping to extend its win streak to three games for the first time this season, was working from behind after the first half-inning, when Nationals right-hander Jerome Williams gave up three runs. It took Williams 37 pitches to get the first out in the frame. Renteria and Andruw Jones had RBI singles, while Jeff Francoeur hit a sacrifice fly.
Although he pitched decently in the next four frames, Williams couldn't ignore the fact he put the team behind in the first inning.
"I didn't pitch good. That's about it. Not concentrating, not being in the zone. It just was bad," Williams said. "I fly open, I don't throw strikes. That's what happens. I've seen it time and time again and I say I'm going to start [throwing strikes], but I'm not doing it. I have to kick myself in the butt for that."
During the Grapefruit League season, Williams used to get rattled when a position player made an error behind him. The power of positive thinking and reminiscing about his late mother helped him have a solid Spring Training and make the 25-man roster.
Now there's a different issue. He is lacking confidence on the mound. That's not good for a team that needs quality starting pitching in the worst way.
"Sometimes it can be up. Sometimes, it can be down. Right now, it's down. I'm not confident out there," Williams said. "I just have to be confident out there. I can't worry about anything. They gave me a shot to be in this rotation. They gave me a shot to be here, and I'm not taking advantage of it. I have to pitch the way I have been pitching before and just prove to people that I belong here."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.