Nats drop second straight to O's
Kearns unable to deliver for Washington in key spot
BALTIMORE -- Austin Kearns' face said it all after the Nationals lost to the Orioles, 6-5, at Camden Yards on Saturday night. He looked down -- way down -- because he didn't come through with a big hit or walk late in the game.
In the bottom of the eighth inning, the Nationals were behind, 6-2, when they made it a game. With two outs and the bases loaded, Aaron Boone took a Dennis Sarfate pitch and singled to left field to send Cristian Guzman and Ryan Zimmerman home.
Right-hander Jim Johnson entered the game and had problems finding the strike zone. Wil Nieves walked to reload the bases, and Lastings Milledge was hit in the back by a pitch to bring Dmitri Young home.
Kearns came to the plate with an opportunity to at least tie the score. He worked the count to 3-2. On the next pitch, Kearns swung at a pitch that was high in the strike zone, but he managed to foul it off. But on the next pitch, Johnson threw a sinking fastball on the inside part of the plate and Kearns swung and missed to end the inning. Kearns threw his bat in disgust.
"I had an opportunity to tie it up or take the lead. I had a decent at-bat going. I probably swung at a couple of pitches out of the zone," Kearns said. "I don't take any positives [out of working the count]. I felt pretty good. In that situation, I felt like I was going to get it done. It just didn't happen."
It has been a season-long battle for Kearns with the bat. Entering Sunday's action, Kearns is hitting .187 with three home runs and 16 RBIs. Nationals manager Manny Acta gave Kearns, who has been too slow reacting to pitches, the day off on Friday to work on his swing. Kearns was back in the lineup on Saturday hitting eighth, but he went 0-for-4.
"I've been doing some stuff," Kearns said. "I took batting practice the last couple of days. I felt it has been a lot better. I just have to take it into the game."
Kearns' slump is a surprise. It appeared he figured things out during the second half of last season, when he hit .285 with 11 home runs and 44 RBIs. But this year is similar to what he went through in the first half of last season.
"Obviously, I expected a lot out of myself," Kearns said. "You don't ever expect to go through something like this. I think it's something that's going to make you better in the long run."
Acta indicated he will continue to play Kearns.
"I pull hard for him. Everybody knows that," Acta said. "He is such a hard-nosed player and a professional. Obviously, I want him to do well. It's a long season. He's a pro. He will continue to grind it out and things will change for him."
Boone played with Kearns when both were with the Reds, and the former believes Kearns will get out of the slump.
"We all go through tough times," Boone said. "It's how you deal with it and how you work through it, and you usually learn a lot when you go through it.
"I told him when I struggled in the past, I wouldn't have had that good of an at-bat. He does that a lot. He has to start hitting his pitch when he gets it. For the most part, he is having good at-bats."
Kearns wasn't the only one who had a tough night. Left-hander Odalis Perez started for Washington, and one couldn't blame him if he was upset that Baltimore took advantage of Wily Mo Pena's lack of defense in left field.
In the first inning, Melvin Mora hit line drive to left. It appeared to be a ball Pena could catch, but it ended up going over his glove for a double. Mora then scored on a single by Nick Markakis.
Against O's left-hander Brian Burres, the Nationals tied the score in the top of the second inning on a Jesus Flores groundout.
In the third, things got worse for Washington. Brian Roberts led off and hit a fly ball near the left-field line. The ball was up in the air long enough to be caught, but it dropped in for a double. Roberts scored on a single by Mora. Markakis then hit a two-run homer.
Perez, who lasted five innings and gave up six runs on 10 hits, blamed himself for the loss.
"I was bad. I couldn't keep the game close," Perez said. It's one of those days where you believe it will be one of the best games ever. By the time the game started, everything was different. It was like they knew what was coming. "
The Nationals had no answers for Burres, who lasted 6 2/3 innings and gave up two runs on four hits. Washington scored its second run when Ryan Zimmerman hit a home run in the fourth.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.