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Nats out to reverse trend of giving up early runs

Williams at a loss to determine why club's pitchers struggle in first inning

WASHINGTON -- Before the Nationals came to bat on Saturday against the Mets, they already found themselves staring up at a 3-0 deficit. That's been an all-too-common theme this season for Washington.

In 42 games entering Sunday, the Nats have surrendered 42 first-inning runs, 13 more than any other Major League club. Their starting pitchers have a 7.50 ERA in the opening frame and have allowed opposing batters to hit .352 with a .396 on-base percentage and .566 slugging percentage. That .962 OPS is the highest in the Majors by 138 points.

When left-hander Gio Gonzalez was tagged for three quick runs on Saturday, it marked the 16th time this season a Nats starter gave up at least one in the first inning. That includes 10 innings of three runs or more.

Manager Matt Williams said the team has studied how its starters are preparing for games, but hasn't found anything that suggests a problem. Last year, Washington ranked 14th in the Majors in first-inning ERA.

"We've gone back three years, and it's been logged how many pitches they throw in the bullpen prior to games -- it has not changed," Williams said. "So to put a finger on it, I can't. Within two or three pitches, they've all been the same. Even Gio in his 21-[win] year [in 2012], did the same thing. There's nothing to put your finger on to say, 'Oh, this is why.' It's just the way it's been. A lot of them, we've come back; this time we couldn't."

The Nats are tied for fourth in the Majors with 12 comeback wins. While they have been outscored by 21 runs in the first inning, they rank first with a plus-38 run differential after the sixth.

Andrew Simon is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.
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