Sean Doolittle, Nationals look for answers
Sean Doolittle stood barefooted by his locker, wearing blue shorts and a red T-shirt late Sunday afternoon.
The Nationals left-handed closer remained calm but was upset mostly with himself.
Less than an hour earlier, Doolittle was ahead 0-2 in the count to Rockies first baseman Ian Desmond, a former shortstop for the Nationals.
But Doolittle wasn’t close with the next three pitches all balls and then Desmond blasted a solo homer to straightaway center on a 3-2 count with two outs in the top of the ninth as Colorado came back for a 6-5 win over the struggling Nationals.
“Obviously I am very frustrated with that at-bat,” said the bearded Doolittle, wearing his black-rimmed glasses. “I had three chances to put him away. I was trying to do too much. I kind of got caught up in some energy there. I let him back in the at-bat and he made me pay for it.”
The Nationals (7-9), however, have more issues than just one at-bat.
They lost seven of 10 games on the first homestand of the season and are already six games back in the National League East to the New York Mets (12-2), who got a walk-off homer from Wilmer Flores in the last of the ninth to win Sunday over the Milwaukee Brewers.
The Nationals, who led 3-1 entering the sixth inning, lost two games in the homestand in the 12th inning and another late game Sunday. Take away ace pitchers Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, who have a combined record of 5-1, and the Nationals are just 2-8.
Strasburg didn’t figure in the decision after giving up four earned runs in six innings against the Rockies.
“I think something is missing right now,” said Strasburg, who didn’t elaborate. “We are too good of a team to not be winning games.”
The Nationals will start pitcher Jeremey Hellickson to begin a three-game series in New York on Monday against the Mets, who could go nine games up on Washington by sweeping the series.
That is not a scenario that rookie Nationals manager Dave Martinez wants to even think about, let alone talk about.
“It’s another game,” Martinez said. “Go in there (Monday) and play like we are capable of playing.”
Facing his first crisis since taking over for Dusty Baker, the New York native has remained calm after each home loss.
It took him exactly 15 minutes, a little longer than normal, to enter the postgame press conference Sunday after the Nationals went 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position.
“It wasn’t good,” Martinez said after losing three of four to the Rockies. “We should have won some more games.”
Martinez held his hands in his lap and circled his thumbs continuously as he addressed the latest meltdown by the bullpen, as reliever Shawn Kelley gave up a solo homer in the eighth to Nationals nemesis DJ LeMahieu.
“The effort is there. We are going to win games,” Martinez said. “We have not been able to put teams away.”
Washington center fielder Michael A. Taylor doubled with two outs in the eighth and later scored on a wild pitch to tie the game at 5.
But Desmond, who played in Washington from 2009 to 2015, went deep for the game-winning homer after he had been in a major slump.
“It’s really one of those fortunate/unfortunate endings,” Desmond said about beating his former team. “DJ and Charlie (Blackmon) did such a really, really good job against some really good pitching. Obviously, you want the light to shine on them. Those guys basically carried me and the team.”
The Nationals offense is looking for someone to carry them besides Bryce Harper.
In the first inning, Harper hit his seventh homer the most in the majors. But he was thrown out at first when a ball was caught in the outfield on a flyout by Howie Kendrick in the seventh.
“He thought the ball was off the wall,” Martinez said.
First baseman Ryan Zimmerman, the cleanup man who bats back of Harper, was hitless in five at-bats and has an average of .122.
“Don’t try to be a hero. Drive in the run. That is what we are asking,” Martinez said of his team and not just Zimmerman. “We will continue to press forward. There is no doubt about that.”