WASHINGTON -- The good news for the Brewers on Wednesday was that they put the finishing touches on a trade with the White Sox for Anthony Swarzak, giving manager Craig Counsell another option for high-leverage spots.The bad news for the Brewers was that Swarzak was a day late. He was
WASHINGTON -- The good news for the Brewers on Wednesday was that they put the finishing touches on a trade with the White Sox for Anthony Swarzak, giving manager Craig Counsell another option for high-leverage spots.
The bad news for the Brewers was that Swarzak was a day late. He was traveling to join his new team when an eighth inning that began with a disputed walk and continued with three irritatingly elusive ground balls, ended with the Nationals thumping Jared Hughes to the tune of four runs in an 8-5 Brewers loss at Nationals Park.
Swarzak will join a second-place team. With their seventh loss in the first nine games of a road trip that concludes Thursday, coupled with a Cubs win, the Brewers fell into second place for the first time since May 26. It was the Brewers' Major League-leading 26th relief loss this season.
"I mean, Anthony's not the savior," Counsell said. "He's not going to come in and change the world. He's certainly going to be in the mix down there. But the guys we threw out there in the eighth inning have done a pretty nice job this year."
Those guys were starter Jimmy Nelson and relievers Jacob Barnes, Josh Hader and Hughes. Nelson took the mound for the eighth at 99 pitches, having carved for seven brilliant innings through a Nationals offense that ranks second in the NL in runs scored.
He walked Matt Wieters on four close pitches. Did Nelson think he was squeezed?
"Yes. One hundred percent," he said. "But that's part of the game. It's just frustrating given the circumstances."
Nelson yielded to Barnes, who was greeted by a sacrifice bunt that was a step away from being a double play. Then things got really maddening for Barnes. Brian Goodwin, after striking out three times against Nelson, bounced a double over the head of leaping first baseman Jesus Aguilar. Wilmer Difo, 0-for-3 with a trio of groundouts, hit another ball on the ground but saw it roll through the right side of the infield for a tying single.
"It was very frustrating," Barnes said. "You think you're executing pitches and you look back and balls are bouncing over people's heads and finding holes."
Enter Hader to face Bryce Harper, who was upset about a 1-0 pitch -- "Borderline," Hader said -- called for a strike. After fanning at Hader's next two pitches, Harper was ejected.
With two outs and right-handed hitter Ryan Zimmerman up next, Counsell removed Hader in favor of Hughes. Zimmerman hit a go-ahead, two-run double and was the first of five straight Nationals hitters to reach safely.
In all, Washington sent 11 men to the plate and scored seven runs for an 8-2 lead.
"You're going through a gauntlet starting with Harper," Counsell said. "You're going through some of the best hitters in the game, so it's a challenging part of the lineup to get through. We [did] a nice job of it seven times through with them, and the eighth time just didn't happen."
Said Hughes: "I think I fell behind in the count to a few guys and put myself in a situation where I had to come to them. The good pitches got hit, the bad pitches got hit."
Nelson's outstanding start -- seven-plus innings, four hits, two earned runs, one walk, 10 strikeouts -- was wasted.
But Counsell defended his decisions.
"I thought we had it set up the way we wanted to with some matchups," he said. "It just didn't work."
Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy, like him on Facebook and listen to his podcast.