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A bad week ends with a bad loss for Nationals

July 25, 2016 GMT

The week ended with all the joy of a nap on spikes.

The Washington Nationals were on a salvage mission Sunday, trying to snag a series win against the downtrodden San Diego Padres, who are grappling with the Arizona Diamondbacks for last place in the National League West.

Already this week, the Nationals had lost two of three home games against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Then they split the opening two with the Padres, the lone win a narrow and boisterous one thanks to Stephen Drew’s walkoff hit Saturday night.

Sunday brought a late implosion, the cringing kind of loss that sends onlookers to social media in search of updates on trade news. The non-waiver trade deadline is just a week away. It takes on a more immediate feeling when a team’s setup man and closer watch their pitches knocked around the park in a 10-6 loss that was six outs from a win.

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The failings of Shawn Kelley in the eighth inning and Jonathan Papelbon in the ninth inning were the caps to Sunday’s dismay for a first-place team deciding what to do before July 31 arrives. Earlier, top prospect Lucas Giolito had started the game and stalled early. The Nationals were in position to handle the rookie’s downfall before the back end of the bullpen allowed allowed six runs and picked up just five outs.

“They’re all bad,” Nationals manager Dusty Baker said of losses.

A turnstile would fit midway up the right side of the Nationals’ clubhouse. Instead, there is a locker, often flipping out occupants of late. Sunday morning “32 Koda Glover” was slipped out of the nameplate holder and “44 Lucas Giolito” replaced it. It was the second time this season the top prospect’s name had been placed above the locker. In between, fellow revered prospect Reynaldo Lopez took one-day ownership of the stall.

Giolito, recalled to start Sunday when Glover was sent back to Triple-A Syracuse, will not yet be a permanent resident at the locker. For the second time in three major league starts, he was unsteady and inaccurate. Giolito pitched only 3 1/3 innings against the Padres, allowing four runs (two earned), walking three and striking out none. He was sent back to Syracuse following the game.

When Lopez was called to the major leagues last week, Baker said the organization chose Lopez instead of Giolito because of off-speed command. It’s something Giolito did not have much of in his prior to starts with the parent club. So, they had sent him back to the minor leagues to work on it. A successful outing at Syracuse followed: 62/3 innings, seven hits, no runs, seven strikeouts.

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What worked July 19 against the Gwinnett Braves was not around Sunday. Giolito who changed his delivery about two weeks ago when he decided to stop rotating his drive foot even from the windup threw 66 pitches. Just 36 were strikes. More disconcerting was what the Nationals felt needed work only proved to need much more labor. The 22 year old threw 17 off-speed pitches. Only five were strikes. Of those, one was a called strike.

“When I fall behind batters, instead of being able to go to changeups or curveballs, I was throwing fastballs,” Giolito said. “Big league hitters are just able to take my off-speed pitches out of the equation if I’m not throwing it for a strike.”

He tried curveballs in the low 80s one of the marquee choices in his repertoire most often. A rare changeup was blended in. Only once did Giolito throw back-to-back off-speed pitches. The attempted mixing of his pitching arsenal produced a deflated cake. A final walk early in the fourth inning ended his day. Giolito’s ERA in three major league starts is 4.91. He has delivered nine walks and only four strikeouts.

“The big thing is you have to command off-speed pitches,” Giolito said. “You’re going to get in trouble when you don’t command those pitches. When you can’t throw a curveball for a strike or a changeup in a hitter’s count, then you get into trouble and I’ve been dealing with a lot of that.”

Also notable is that when things began going wrong for Giolito he was not able to fix them. His first two innings were a mix of light fly balls and grounders at the well-positioned shortstop. An error from said shortstop, Danny Espinosa, put the first runner of the day on base to open the third inning. The Padres went on to score three runs. A messy fourth inning followed.

Lopez was able to correct himself within the game after allowing three-run first in his debut. He struck out nine Los Angeles Dodgers -- a team much less prone to striking out than the Padres -- which is more than Giolito has struck out in three major league appearances. Only once on Sunday did a San Diego player swing and miss against Giolito’s pitches.

Yet, the Nationals carried a 6-4 lead into the eighth inning. They had the best bullpen ERA in baseball coming into the day and spent four innings showing why. Then Kelley and Papelbon arrived, again prompting wonder about what the Nationals will do before the trade deadline arrives.

Notes: Ryan Zimmerman expects to come off the 15-day disabled list Tuesday when the team opens a two-game series against the Cleveland Indians. Zimmerman was placed on the disabled list July 8 (retroactive to July 7) because of a left rib cage strain. Zimmerman said Sunday he felt good after collecting five hits in a three-game rehab stint with the Single-A Potomac Nationals. Outfielder Michael A. Taylor was optioned to Syracuse following Sunday’s game, making room on the roster for Zimmerman. Relief pitcher Aaron Barrett fractured his right throwing elbow on Friday during rehabilitation from Tommy John surgery. Barrett had hoped to be ready to pitch this season after having his ulnar collateral ligament repaired Sept. 3, 2015. Barrett will see Dr. James Andrews on Monday and undergo surgery to repair the fracture and evaluate his UCL.

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