Martin effective, but Nats fall to Crew
Poor defense costs rookie chance at first big league win
MILWAUKEE -- Right-hander J.D. Martin pitched his best game as a member of the Nationals on Thursday afternoon at Miller Park, but it wasn't enough, as the Brewers won the game, 7-3.
Martin pitched better than the box score indicated. He lasted six-plus innings and gave up five runs on seven hits.
"I thought he did a great job," Nationals interim manager Jim Riggleman said. "He minimized his pitches. He had a lot of quick innings. They hit a couple of balls out of the park, but they have a slugging ballclub. They are going to do that with Prince [Fielder] and the others. He really made some outstanding pitches. He gave us a chance."
Martin said he felt more comfortable than he did in his previous two starts. He made only two mistakes in the game, giving up home runs to Craig Counsell and Fielder.
"[Besides the home runs], I felt like everything was good," Martin said. "It was just a comfort level. I was hitting my spots and keeping the ball down."
But shoddy defense did Martin in. With the score tied at 3 in the seventh, the Brewers had runners on first and third and no outs when Jason Kendall came to the plate. Kendall hit a slow roller to third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who grabbed the ball and tried to get Mike Cameron at the plate. The ball got to catcher Wil Nieves in plenty of time, but Cameron slid under the tag and scored the go-ahead run.
"It was just a good play. I slid under the tag. It was a good run, a big run," Cameron said.
The reason Cameron was able to get in was that Nieves didn't feel the ball was in his glove. By the time he realized he had the ball, it was too late. Cameron's foot was already on the plate when Nieves tagged him on the chest.
"I just tagged him too high. I just should have blocked [the plate]," Nieves said. "I better make sure it won't happen again. It's just one of those plays you have to make."
Three batters later, with left-hander Sean Burnett on the mound, the Brewers had the bases loaded when Counsell came to the plate. He hit a perfect double-play ball to shortstop Alberto Gonzalez, who threw the ball to second baseman Anderson Hernandez to get the force play. But Hernandez made a bad throw to first baseman Nick Johnson, and that allowed Casey McGehee to score the Brewers' fifth run of the game.
Milwaukee added two more runs in the bottom of the eighth inning off right-hander Mike MacDougal. Cameron was in the middle of things again as he hit a sacrifice fly to drive in Fielder. Corey Hart would later score on a MacDougal wild pitch.
It was a game that saw Riggleman receive his first ejection of the season. In the top of the third inning, with the count 1-2 and no score, home-plate umpire Joe West said Hernandez struck out swinging. But Hernandez claimed that he fouled off the pitch.
Riggleman came out to argue the call for about a minute with West. Riggleman then went to third-base umpire Paul Nauert to protest the call. As he was talking to Nauert, Riggleman was ejected by West.
"I thought I heard the ball hit the bat," Riggleman said. "When the ball's going through the zone like that -- low and in the dirt -- you can't really see much. I thought I heard the ball and bat make contact. I'm not positive, but I thought it warranted Joe checking with the third-base umpire. He was sure with what he saw and decided there was no need for that."
The two teams ended up splitting the four-game series. The Nationals believed they should have done even better in the series.
"We had a chance to win all four ballgames," Riggleman said. "That's got to be a step in the right direction for our club to feel that we could play with these guys. We can play with the top teams in various divisions. We just need to continue to play good baseball. We are playing good baseball. The disappointment they feel after the ballgame is a great thing."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.