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Nats playing the hand they are dealt

MILWAUKEE -- The Washington Nationals who took the field at Miller Park Thursday night did not completely resemble the club that entered this season as overwhelming favorites to win the National League pennant.

And yet, they were trying to play the way the Washington Nationals are supposed to play, trying to be the club that had the best record in the NL two of the last three seasons.

They are banged up, nicked up, whatever you want to say. They officially became more so Thursday, when first baseman Ryan Zimmerman went on the disabled list with plantar fasciitis in his left foot and reliever Aaron Barrett was pulled in the eighth inning with an apparent injury the Nationals will reevaluate on Friday.

They came into a four-game series against the Brewers having lost nine of their last 12 games. They were missing left fielder Jayson Werth, out with a wrist contusion; they were missing 40 percent of their projected starting rotation. But this was no time or place for excuses. And so none were made.

"We look at today, and today only," Nationals manager Matt Williams said. "We'll try to win this game, and when it's over we'll look to tomorrow. The guys who are injured will come back soon enough, but in the meantime, we need to win games, and that's what we concern ourselves with."

For the purposes of a nice, uplifting narrative, what was needed here was a nice, uplifting Nationals victory. That didn't occur. Instead, there was a 6-5 victory for the Brewers, who entered the game with an unimposing 22-38 record.

There was a moment that trended in the heartwarming direction, when Clint Robinson, filling in for Zimmerman at first, hit the first home run of his Major League career to give the Nats a 2-1 lead in the second.

"It was everything you dream of," Robinson said. "I couldn't feel my legs for a couple of innings after that."

Robinson, a left-handed hitter, made his first Opening Day roster this spring. He is 30, but he has had success in the Minors. He won the Texas League triple crown in 2010 when he was with the Kansas City organization.

First base will be a day-by-day experience in the absence of Zimmerman. Tyler Moore has also started three games there for the Nats.

"We'll have to mix and match," Williams said. "The good thing is, we've got a couple of guys who have been over there and know how to play the position. We've got guys who have experience there so we'll mix and match. We'll see how it goes. We can have some versatility within our infield because we have multiple guys who can play multiple positions. Every day is going to be a different story for us."

The story for the Nationals Thursday night was a little too different. They built a 5-1 lead, helped immensely by three Milwaukee errors that led to three unearned runs. But the Brewers chipped away and eventually tied the game in the seventh on a solo homer by Gerardo Parra off Washington starter Tanner Roark.

Roark accepted his share of the blame and then some.

"When we get that kind of offense and we get up, 5-1, there's no reason it shouldn't stay that way," Roark said. "But I didn't keep it that way."

Milwaukee second baseman Scooter Gennett, just returning from a demotion to Triple-A after a season-opening slump, delivered the game-winning single in the eighth off Barrett. 

The Nationals' lineup was also missing another starter, shortstop Ian Desmond, who was given nearly a full day of rest. He pinch-hit with two out and none on in the ninth and briefly kept the Nats' hopes alive with a single.

"He needs a day off," Williams said of Desmond. "He's played every day. He generally plays every day. Today's a good day for him to have a day off. He doesn't get many of them, but today's one of them. He grinds every day, he works hard, success hasn't happened for him the way he'd like it to, but we know as well as anybody that it can turn on that dime. He'll be back in there tomorrow."

So the Nationals came into the game unhealthy and may have emerged even less healthy. What's next? More effort, more grinding.

"We've got to keep grinding away," Robinson said. "You have injuries, that's just a part of the game. We have to come together as a team and fight through those little injuries and grind away to get wins until all our regular guys come back healthy."

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for
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