LOS ANGELES -- Last summer, the Nationals acquired Brandon Kintzler, Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle in trades to cure an ailing bullpen. Even though they have kept that trio together, they find themselves once again short on consistent relief options.Madson was unavailable on Sunday night at Dodger Stadium, the product
LOS ANGELES -- Last summer, the Nationals acquired Brandon Kintzler, Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle in trades to cure an ailing bullpen. Even though they have kept that trio together, they find themselves once again short on consistent relief options.
Madson was unavailable on Sunday night at Dodger Stadium, the product of working three consecutive games and four out of five earlier in the week. Without him, the Nationals' struggle to bridge the gap from starting pitcher to the end of the game resurfaced, and it cost them as the Dodgers captured a come-from-behind 4-3 victory.
Washington dropped two of three to Los Angeles this weekend despite earning a victory in the series opener against Clayton Kershaw and leading through the first half of Sunday's game. After a strong start to the road trip in New York, the Nats might lament their missed opportunity at something more.
"When they go out there and give us a chance to win, we want to close those games out," Nationals center fielder Michael A. Taylor said of the club's starting pitchers. "There's not much we can do about it now, but we'll continue to keep grinding."
• Taylor goes 3-for-3 with homer, swipes 2 bags
Backed by a 3-for-3 night from Taylor, the Nationals received an encouraging outing from right-hander Jeremy Hellickson in his second turn as the fifth starter. He navigated twice through the Dodgers' lineup with ease, retiring 14 in a row from the end of the first inning until the sixth. He possessed command of his fastball, changeup and curve and threw them in whatever count he pleased to keep the Dodgers off balance.
Hellickson struggled the third time through the order, however, as the Dodgers honed in on his fastball. In the sixth, leadoff man Chris Taylor started the Dodgers' rally with a one-out double, Corey Seager drew a walk and Yasmani Grandal cut the Nats' lead to one with a two-run double that chased Hellickson. The next batter, Cody Bellinger, tied the game with a double off Sammy Solis.
Hellickson's outing was encouraging -- 5 1/3 innings with three runs and five strikeouts -- but it ended up being wasted.
"He pitched great," Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. "And even when it seemed like it fell apart, there were no hard-hit balls."
Martinez then attempted to piece together the game behind Hellickson.
After Solis walked Kiké Hernandez, Martinez turned to Trevor Gott, who reached back to strike out the next two batters with fastballs at 97 mph and 96 mph to escape the jam.
Martinez stayed with Gott in the seventh inning, and he relinquished the lead. Gott hit Austin Barnes with an errant pitch, then Barnes reached third base on a single from Taylor and scored the winning run on a sac fly from Seager.
"You just try to play matchups," Martinez said.
Without the ability to turn to his backend trio of relievers, Martinez has been forced to mix and match to navigate the number of close games the Nationals have had recently. He said he pushed Madson too hard earlier in the week, leaving him unavailable even though he has not pitched since Wednesday.
And the Nationals fell to two games below .500 even though this series carried such promise.
"I think you always want to win games, especially when you lead in them," shortstop Trea Turner said. "We haven't been able to do that yet, so hopefully we can get the ball rolling in San Fran. I think we played better baseball this roadtrip than we were at home, so I think we're going in the right direction."
MOMENT THAT MATTERED
Ninth-inning rally falls short: The Nationals had a chance to rally against Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen after starting the ninth with back-to-back singles from Matt Adams and Wilmer Difo. That brought light-hitting Andrew Stevenson to the plate with nobody out and runners on first and second. But considering Stevenson's ability to hit fastballs, the Nats allowed him to take a free swing at the first pitch, before putting the bunt sign on.
Jansen would eventually strike out Stevenson and Turner before getting a flyout from Howie Kendrick to seal the victory.
"He's funky, because you don't see guys with that kind of stuff for the most part," Turner said. "That's why he's the closer. But I think that last pitch is kind of tough, because when he throws it at you, it looks like it's going to be a ball and then it kind of comes back to the plate."
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
While Taylor did not say he always has the green light on the bases this season, he has certainly run like it so far. He got himself into scoring position in the eighth inning after drawing a two-out walk and promptly swiping second base. The throw from Grandal beat him, but Taylor slid around the tag on a close play. The Dodgers challenged the safe call, but it was confirmed by replay. Taylor is now 8-for-8 on stolen-base attempts this season.
"I felt pretty confident going in [to the replay]. I knew he tagged me on the leg kind of late, but I felt like I was able to hold the bag," Taylor said. "When it goes through a review, you kind of hold your breath, because you never know what's going to happen, but I felt good about it."
The Nationals return to San Francisco on Monday for the first time since last year's benches-clearing fracas after Bryce Harper was hit with a pitch from right-hander Hunter Strickland. Any bad blood between the two sides has likely dissipated, but a potential late-innings showdown between Harper and Strickland could be something to watch for. For the 10:15 p.m. ET series opener, left-hander Giovany Gonzalez will take the mound against right-hander Chris Stratton in a matchup of two pitchers in the top 12 in ERA in the National League.
Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.