SAN DIEGO -- Left-handed pitching has been one of the Nationals' weaknesses through the early part of this season, a surprising development for what was one of the team's strengths the year prior. They entered Wednesday's game just 4-8 in games against lefties with the 24th-ranked OPS in the Majors
SAN DIEGO -- Left-handed pitching has been one of the Nationals' weaknesses through the early part of this season, a surprising development for what was one of the team's strengths the year prior. They entered Wednesday's game just 4-8 in games against lefties with the 24th-ranked OPS in the Majors against southpaws.
Washington's fortune did not improve against left-hander Joey Lucchesi during its 2-1 loss to San Diego on Wednesday night at Petco Park. With Bryce Harper and Matt Adams both out of the starting lineup, the Nats were held in check by Lucchesi and the Padres bullpen.
It cooled off the red-hot Nats, who had won nine of their past 10 games and were looking to leave town with the franchise's first sweep in San Diego since 1994.
"Series wins are good," first baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "Obviously we had a really good chance to win tonight, but you can't sweep everyone. Can't win every game. They played a good game tonight, too."
Left-hander Giovany Gonzalez started off a bit erratically, walking the leadoff batter and throwing seven straight pitches out of the zone to begin his start. But Gonzalez has continued to master navigating his way out of jams. He worked his way out of trouble all night to surrender just one run in six innings with eight strikeouts in 110 pitches.
"I think learning from that is just trying to be aggressive and keep building from there," Gonzalez said. "I think [pitching coach Derek Lilliquist] said it best, 'bend but don't break,' so I guess that's the way to put it."
The Nats offense could not muster much help. Anthony Rendon hammered a solo home run in the fourth inning, his first since returning from the disabled list this past weekend, but the Nationals collected eight hits and stranded six runners on base.
While the Nationals have spent much of the past week crushing right-handed pitching to begin their current hot streak, their lineup has been less successful against lefties. In an effort to shield Adams against lefties, he has started just one of the team's 13 games against a left-handed starter. He pinch-hit with the go-ahead run at third base in the seventh, but he lined out to end the inning. Harper is in the midst of an 0-for-19 slump and received his first night off this season. Without those two bats in the lineup, the Nationals were missing some significant pop.
"When you want to give Harper a day off, you want to give him [one] against a lefty," manager Dave Martinez said. "Same thing with Matt Adams, he's been playing a lot. But those guys when they're swinging the bats really well, your lineup's really good left or right. We got guys that can fill in and do the job. They pitched well. … I tip my hat off to them."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Although Harper received his first night off, he was still available to pinch-hit. But he never appeared in Wednesday night's game even though he could have represented the go-ahead run in the ninth against Padres closer Brad Hand. With a runner at first base and two outs, Martinez allowed Moises Sierra to face Hand because he liked the matchup of the right-handed Sierra against Hand, but Sierra struck out to end the game and keep Harper on the bench.
"[Harper] was going to hit for the pitcher," Martinez said. "Mo's here to hit left-handed pitching, so I thought that was a good matchup."
Since returning from the disabled list Saturday, Rendon has gone 6-for-18 (.333) with two doubles, a home run, four RBIs and three walks.
A few weeks after the Nationals dropped two of three to the D-backs in Washington, they will seek their revenge in a four-game series beginning Thursday in Arizona. Tanner Roark will be on the mound for the Nats, with Harper and Adams returning to the lineup after a night off to face Zack Greinke. First pitch is at 9:40 p.m. ET.
Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.