WASHINGTON -- After their lineup began the season as one of the hottest in baseball, the Nationals have hit a bit of an offensive funk during this homestand. They scattered a season-low four hits on Thursday night and had no answer for Rockies right-hander Chad Bettis en route to a
WASHINGTON -- After their lineup began the season as one of the hottest in baseball, the Nationals have hit a bit of an offensive funk during this homestand. They scattered a season-low four hits on Thursday night and had no answer for Rockies right-hander Chad Bettis en route to a 5-1 loss to Colorado at Nationals Park.
When Washington opened the season on a four-game winning streak, its lineup scored 29 runs over that span. Since then they have dropped seven of the past nine games and managed just 26 runs.
"I always say hitting comes and goes," manager Dave Martinez said. "It's part of it. But we got to continue doing the little things. Play defense, run the bases hard, pitch.
"They're going to make adjustments. The biggest thing for them is take your walks. Take what they give us and we'll get out of it. We got a good hitting team. We just got to stay aggressive and work our way out of it."
The Nats rarely tested Bettis on Thursday. Aside from a solo home run from Howie Kendrick in the fifth inning, Bettis was able to throw seven innings of one-run ball and strike out five without pitching out of much trouble. Colorado even held Bryce Harper, the Nationals' hottest hitter and MLB's home run leader so far, 0-for-4 with three strikeouts.
"I thought he pitched well," Harper said of Bettis. "Fastball, changeup, looked pretty good. He was mixing it up pretty well tonight and sometimes that's going to happen."
Meanwhile, Rockies second baseman DJ LeMahieu provided much of Colorado's offense, with a pair of home runs, a leadoff homer in the first and a two-run homer in the sixth and an RBI double in the fourth inning. He went 4-for-5 and drove in a career-high four runs.
And the Rockies' lineup ran left-hander Giovany Gonzalez's pitch count up early, so he lasted just five innings on 106 pitches.
"They just kept fouling some good pitches off," Gonzalez said. "Worked the pitch count and spit on pitches close, pretty good pitches. They did a good job. They kept fouling off pitches, working the count and working my pitch count up."
The Nationals are playing without two of their best hitters in left fielder Adam Eaton and second baseman Daniel Murphy. They are optimistic Eaton's stint on the DL with a bone bruise in his left ankle could be a short one and Murphy could be headed to extended Spring Training as soon as next week. Washington even agreed to a Minor League deal, pending a physical, with first baseman Mark Reynolds on Thursday night, which could provide a potential power bat to keep in the Minors.
But for now the Nationals must work themselves out of this early season offensive rut. They see encouraging signs and believe they are on the verge of an offensive breakout soon.
"It's still early in the season," Kendrick said. "I don't think we should like panic at all. We've still got a lot of games left to play and that's part of it. You're going to have parts of the year where you're not swinging the bat as well and pitching is getting it done or we'll be hitting and not pitching, so we carry each other."
Kendrick is one of the few hitters in the Nationals lineup who is swinging the bat well so far this season. His home run in the fifth inning increased his current hitting streak to 10 games, tied for the longest streak in the Majors. He is batting .349/.378/.558 so far this season and of his first 15 hits, seven have gone for extra bases.
The Nationals and Rockies begin Game Two of this four-game set Friday night at Nationals Park in a series featuring two of the best players in the National League in Harper and Nolan Arenado. Harper has four home runs in his career against the Rockies and an OPS better than .900. Tanner Roark will take the mound for Washington against left-hander Kyle Freeland for Colorado. First pitch is at 7:05 p.m. ET.
Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.