Game #20 Recap: Nats Shutout by Cards; Defense Shines in Loss

The Nationals spoiled a strong effort by starter Ross Detwiler and were shutout by the St. Louis Cardinals in a 2-0 loss at Nationals Park on Tuesday.  Detwiler, who entered today’s game with a sparkling 0.90 ERA, recorded a solid performance in the loss, allowing two runs on eight hits over six innings of work.

The Nationals offense failed to get anything going against Cards ace Adam Wainwright.  Wainwright nearly pitched a complete came, going 8 and 1/3 innings before yielding to closer Edward Mujica.  From early on, the Nats bats were fooled by Wainwright.

Bryce Harper continues to be one of the only bright spots in Washington’s struggling starting nine.  Through the first five innings, Harper was the only National to record a hit.  In fact, he was the only Nat to even get on base.  Wainwright mowed down the Nats through the first five innings, recording six strikeouts along the way.

2012 Silver Slugger first baseman Adam LaRoche would strike out in all four of his at bats against Wainwright while leaving five runners on base.  The dreadful showing drops the cleanup hitter’s season average to .172 through 17 games.

Detwiler was nearly just as unhittable throught the first three innings, allowing a base runner in each inning but still facing the minimum by getting the Cardinal’s offense to ground into three inning-ending double plays.  The National’s defense played like a World Series contender– a much needed sight from a team that came into today’s game leading the major league in errors.

Shortstop Ian Desmond began a spectacular double play that ended the first inning. Desmond ranged far to his left to snag a grounder up the middle and used only his glove to toss the ball over to second baseman Danny Espinosa.  Rushing to cover the second base bag, Espinosa fired to first for the final out.

Detwiler ran into his first real trouble in the fourth inning.  After Cardinals center fielder Shane Robinson led of the inning with a single, first baseman Allen Craig scorched a 93-MPH fastball down the right field line for a double.  Robinson, who was running on the pitch, scored from first base, giving St. Louis a 1-0 lead.  

The Cards would tack on one more run in the inning as All-Star right fielder Carlos Beltran singled, scoring Craig and pushing the St. Louis lead to 2-0.  Detwiler retired the next three batters in order to get out of the inning.  The fourth would be the only inning in which the power lefty would give up a run.

The Nationals again flashed the leather while turning another double play in the fifth inning.

With one out and a man on first, Wainwright bunted to advance the runner.  LaRoche, Detwiler, third baseman Anthony Rendon, and catcher Kurt Suzuki all charged to field the bunt.  Suzuki was first to the ball and fired to first base where Espinosa was covering.  Noticing the Cardinals runner trying to advance to third base, Espinosa threw across the diamond where Detwiler was waiting to complete the double play.

The twin killing was only possible because every fielder positioned himself exactly where he needed to be – a great confidence booster for the struggling club.

The Nats had their chance to take back the lead in the sixth inning when a leadoff single by Suzuki was followed by a Denard Span single and a walk by Harper to load the bases.

With two outs, LaRoche struck out again to end the inning – stranding all three runners and wasting the Nats only offensive opportunity of the game.

Right-handed reliever Henry Rodriguez replaced Detwiler to start the seventh inning and pitched two solid innings while striking out two and walking only one batter.  Walks have been an issue for H-Rod in past years, and the control exhibited in the outing is an encouraging sign of his progress as a pitcher.  Rodriguez lowered his ERA to 3.24 on the season over eight innings of work.

The Nats offense once again showed promise in the bottom of the ninth after Bryce Harper doubled to lead off the inning against Wainwright – who entered the inning having thrown 101 pitches.  After striking out LaRoche again, this time via the curveball, Wainwright was removed in favor of Mujica.

The Cardinals closer would promptly sit down Desmond and pinch-hitter Chad Tracy to finish the game and secure his third save of the season.

The Nats will have a chance tomorrow to secure a victory in the series finale when ace Stephen Strasburg faces off against Cardinals southpaw Jaime Garcia.  Game time is 1:05 pm.