WASHINGTON -- One positive that has emerged from the number of rotation injuries the Nationals have endured this season has been the performance of Jefry Rodriguez, the lanky, 6-foot-6, 25-year old right-hander, who had appeared to hit his stride lately in the Majors. With a pair of potential vacancies open in Washington's rotation next season, Rodriguez will have his opportunity this month to grab one of those spots.
However, Rodriguez's inability to find the strike zone combined with a seven-run fifth inning by the Brewers helped lead to Washington's 9-4 loss to Milwaukee on Sunday afternoon at Nationals Park. Nationals pitchers issued 11 walks on the afternoon, matching a team record for walks in a nine-inning game (Aug. 13, 2008).
"It's the walks," manager Dave Martinez said. "When you fall behind it's tough, they got pretty good hitters."
Rodriguez was responsible for seven of those free passes. He had minimized the damage to just two runs until the fifth inning when he was almost certainly pushed beyond his limit in the inning. After starting the inning against the middle of the Brewers' lineup, he was allowed to continue after giving back the lead on a three-run homer from Keon Broxton.
Martinez decided to keep pushing Rodriguez, in part, because the Nats were short in their bullpen with Jimmy Cordero, Wander Suero and Matt Grace all unavailable, and the team attempting to stay away from Koda Glover. So Rodriguez continued and surrendered a single and walked a relief pitcher on four pitches before finally his day was done. The rookie struggled with Martinez's test and was charged with seven runs on seven hits in 4 2/3 innings. It was a step back after Rodriguez had impressed and started catching the eye of those within the organization following his 1.69 ERA in his most recent three outings and the development of his changeup.
"He battled, which I actually liked," Martinez said. "I want to see him go through those struggles because if he's going to pitch here, he's got to do that."
To escape the jam, Martinez summoned lefty Tim Collins, but it was met with poor results. Collins issued a four-pitch walk to pinch-hitter Hernan Perez and then served up a grand slam to Christian Yelich to put the Brewers comfortably ahead. Collins began warming up in the bullpen to start the inning before sitting back down and then coming into the game, but he did not use that as an excuse after the game for his performance.
The Nationals went quietly for the rest of the game, blanked in four shutout innings from reliever Brandon Woodruff as the Nats dropped back under .500.
"Unfortunately it didn't happen today for us," second baseman Wilmer Difo said through an interpreter. "But we take the same approach out there, trying to come back regardless. Today, it didn't work out for us."
WILLIAMS THROWS UP ZEROS IN DEBUT
Austen Williams made his Major League debut in the sixth inning and threw two scoreless innings of relief with two strikeouts and two walks.
"It's awesome," he said. "Hard to describe it other than that. Special moment in my life, and something I've worked really hard to achieve."
HE SAID IT
"The biggest thing that I learned is that you have to keep battling. I didn't have the best command out there today, but I never gave up. I kept battling and tried to get through those situations." -- Rodriguez, through an interpreter, about pitching out of jams
"I don't think there's anything normal in the bullpen. Those are situations you just have to adjust to. Being a bullpen guy, sometimes you're gonna get up and sit down, get up and sit down. It's just a matter of not flipping the switch off when you have to sit down. That's certainly not an excuse for what happened today. Just a matter of executing pitches. Shouldn't happen." -- Collins, on his relief outing
The Nationals welcome the Cardinals to Nationals Park for the start of a three-game set beginning with a stellar pitching matchup Monday afternoon. Max Scherzer, one of the candidates for the National League Cy Young Award, will take the mound for the Nats against the Cards' Jack Flaherty, a candidate for the NL Rookie of the Year. With Scherzer's next strikeout, he will reach 250 for the fifth consecutive season. First pitch is at 1:05 ET.