Nationals' losing streak reaches seven
Perez strong for 5 2/3 innings; ninth-inning rally falls just short
WASHINGTON -- Something is wrong with the Nationals, and leave it to catcher Paul Lo Duca, one of the few players on the roster who speaks his mind, to come up with the reasons why the team is not winning.
Asked before Thursday's game how the Nationals can get back to their winning ways, Lo Duca said they need to get their confidence back. He believes the team has a lot of talent to win.
"We need to realize [we can win]," Lo Duca said. "We need to show and play with that cockiness and play with that edge. That's how we are going to win ballgames."
Asked if he saw that edge in the Nationals, Lo Duca said: "No. We need to go out there with a little attitude and play with attitude and keep fighting -- run balls out. Even when you are getting beat, those are the times you need to hustle even more. That's what we need to do."
On Thursday, it was the Marlins who had more of the edge and attitude, as they defeated the Nationals, 4-3, at Nationals Park. Florida completed a three-game sweep, while the Nationals have now lost seven straight games to drop their record to 3-7.
Toward the end of the game, it looked like the Nationals had that edge and attitude to at least tie the game in the ninth inning. With Marlins closer Kevin Gregg on the mound, Florida held a 4-2 lead.
Lastings Milledge led off with a double. After Ryan Zimmerman flied out to right field, Nick Johnson came to the plate and hit a fly ball to deep left field. It looked like the ball was going over the fence for a two-run home run to tie the game, but left fielder Josh Willingham jumped and the ball hit his glove and bounced in front of him on the warning track, allowing Milledge to score.
"When I felt myself on the track, basically I just tried to jump," Willingham said. "I didn't know the ball was actually going over the fence at the time. I had the ball in my glove, but when my hand was over the fence and it came back, it just kind of jarred it out. Yes, it was over the fence."
The Nationals still couldn't get Johnson home. After Austin Kearns was hit by a pitch to put runners on first and second, Lo Duca came to the plate and hit into a double play to end the game.
"I just didn't get it done," Lo Duca said. "He made a good pitch to me on the last pitch. I got a good pitch to hit the time before that. I fouled it off. I hope I'm in that spot tomorrow. That's the way you have to look at it. Someone needs to get a hit with guys in scoring position, and I didn't get it done, bottom line. It's a very disappointing loss."
The Marlins were projected to be the worst team in the National League this year. During the three-game sweep, however, they outscored and outhit the Nationals, 24-14 and 36-23, respectively.
"That was the story of the whole series -- they outplayed us," manager Manny Acta said.
Asked if it was time to change the lineup, Acta said now is not the time to panic.
"It's early and these guys got to get it going," Acta said. "Just because we are losing doesn't mean we have to turn the lineup upside down. What am I going to do? Take Zimmerman out of third hole because he is hitting [.209]? We just have to keep on working. We are going to get out of it."
It looked like left-hander Odalis Perez was going to help the Nationals get out of their funk. Perez was staked to a 1-0 lead and cruising during the first five innings, allowing just two hits. But the Marlins started to get to him in the sixth. With one out, Hanley Ramirez scored the tying run on single by Jeremy Hermida.
Two batters later, Mike Jacobs singled to put runners on first and second. Acta took Perez out of the game, and it was time for the bullpen to work its magic. On this day, the relievers didn't get the job done.
Saul Rivera entered and gave up an RBI double to Jorge Cantu, which gave Florida a one-run lead.
With Luis Ayala on the mound in the top of the eighth inning, Cantu drove in the Marlins' third run of the game with a single to left field.
But the Nationals tried to make a comeback in the bottom of the eighth inning. Lo Duca doubled to right-center field and scored on a single by pinch-hitter Johnny Estrada.
Jon Rauch, however, couldn't keep the deficit at one run, as he gave up an RBI double to Willingham in the ninth.
Marlins left-hander Mark Hendrickson baffled the Nationals for seven innings. Washington's only run off him came in the third inning, when Ronnie Belliard homered over the left-field wall.
"We have to keep clawing and scratching and coming out every day and see if we can try to turn it around," Milledge said.
For starters, finding that edge would be nice for the Nationals.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.