NEW YORK -- The dramatic walk-off home run by Ryan Zimmerman (Zim) in the late hours of Wednesday night was one of the real highlights of this Nationals season.It was also, as of late Saturday afternoon, the last run Washington scored.:: Players' Weekend presented by Valspar Stain ::Any hope that
NEW YORK -- The dramatic walk-off home run by Ryan Zimmerman (Zim) in the late hours of Wednesday night was one of the real highlights of this Nationals season.
It was also, as of late Saturday afternoon, the last run Washington scored.
:: Players' Weekend presented by Valspar Stain ::
Any hope that the Zimmerman walk-off would spur the Nationals into a late run at a playoff spot all but evaporated with three straight shutout losses. The Nationals had some chances Saturday afternoon against Zack Wheeler (Wheels) and the Mets' bullpen, but the result was more disappointment and a 3-0 loss that dropped the Nationals two games under .500 at 64-66 after the middle game of Players' Weekend.
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"It's been difficult," said Adam Eaton (Spanky), who reached base in all four plate appearances and had two of the Nationals' seven hits. "It's very mind-numbing, because we do have such good talent and we have guys that have unbelievable numbers throughout their career. And for some reason, this year we haven't really been able to put it together.
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"It's why we've been scratching our heads all year, including the last three days."
Even in their worst seasons in Washington, when the Nationals were losing 102 and 103 games, they were never shut out for more than two games in a row. Now they've been blanked three straight times, first on Thursday in a game started by Phillies right-hander Aaron Nola (Nols) and then on back-to-back days on Citi Field in games started by Jason Vargas (Vargy) and Wheeler.
"It's like somebody shut the door [on home plate]," manager Dave Martinez said. "We've got to get home."
Unlike on Friday, when the Nationals had just four baserunners, Saturday they had runners on base right from the start. They stranded runners at first and third in the first, left the bases loaded in the third and hit into a double play when they had first and second and one out in the fifth.
What they couldn't do, as Martinez said, was get anyone home. They went 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position, with the one hit an infield single in the first inning by Anthony Rendon (Ant).
The Nationals couldn't even take advantage when the Mets seemed to give them a baserunner. The Nats were convinced Wheeler was intentionally throwing at Eaton when he hit him in the seventh inning, perhaps in retaliation for an Eaton slide on Aug. 1 at Nationals Park that resulted in Mets infielder Phillip Evans (Barrel) breaking his leg (Major League Baseball ruled the slide legal).
Wheeler also threw a pitch high and inside before walking Eaton in the third inning.
"I play the game hard, that's the way I've been taught," Eaton said. "I think if you can't play the game hard, you shouldn't be playing the game. If you played in past generations, you'd look at that play as almost soft."
As to whether the pitches were intentional, Eaton had little doubt.
"[Wheeler] had pretty good precision," he said. "And then one went at my head and the other went right at my rear end."
The Nationals wasted a good pitching performance by Tanner Roark (T-Ro), who carried a shutout into the sixth inning before allowing a one-out home run to Amed Rosario (El Nino) on an 0-2 fastball. Roark has allowed just nine runs (eight earned) in 44 2/3 innings over his last seven starts, lowering his ERA to 3.95.
But just as with Max Scherzer (Blue Eye) on Thursday and Giovany Gonzalez (Double G) on Friday, the Nationals couldn't support their starter.
The Mets added runs in the seventh and eighth against the Nationals bullpen, but the bigger issue was that the Nationals couldn't score a run. Again.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
A rookie mistake: Juan Soto (Juanjo) has had a fantastic rookie season, but once in a while there's still a reminder that he's just 19 years old. One of those came in the eighth inning, when Soto was out trying to stretch a single into a double. Soto reached second base before the throw from Austin Jackson (A-Jax), but Rosario applied the tag as Soto lost contact with the base, and second-base umpire Paul Nauert's call was confirmed by replay after a Nationals challenge.
Even if Soto had been safe, it was a bad gamble to take with his team down two runs.
"I just tried to make a play," Soto said.
HE SAID IT
"If they want to hit me or throw at me, that's fine. I take it. Just keep it below the shoulders and above the knee. I'll be fine with that. Put me on first base, I'm good." -- Eaton
The Nationals are the only team to be shut out in three consecutive games this season. Their 14 shutouts leave them tied with the Pirates for the most in the National League. The Tigers have been shut out 16 times to lead the Majors.
The Nationals and Mets close out Players' Weekend with a 1:10 p.m. ET game Sunday at Citi Field. Rookie right-hander Jefry Rodriguez (1-1, 5.46 ERA) makes his sixth start for the Nationals, with left-hander Steven Matz (5-10, 4.55 ERA) going for the Mets. While the Nationals have struggled against lefty starters this season (13-23), they've handled Matz (Matzy) well each of the last three times they've seen him, scoring 13 runs in 11 innings. Rodriguez (Pizon) has a 2.70 ERA over his past two starts.
Danny Knobler is a contributor to MLB.com based in New York.