WASHINGTON — After their eighth loss in 11 games dropped the Washington Nationals to .500 for the first time in more than a year, manager Davey Johnson promised lineup changes and said he hopes players “get a little mad.”
Asked for his thoughts after Washington’s 2-0 loss to Adam Wainright and the St. Louis Cardinals on Tuesday night, general manager Mike Rizzo sounded a different tone.
“I love our team. I’m going to stick with our team. We’re going to win a lot of games this year,” Rizzo said as he made his way out of the home clubhouse at Nationals Park.
“I like our team,” Rizzo continued. “I wouldn’t trade our team for any team in baseball right now.”
Since moving from Montreal to Washington in 2005, this club never had entered a season with the sort of lofty expectations that greeted it in 2013. That’s what a majors-leading 98 wins and NL East title last season, along with a roster that includes Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg, will do.
“I’m usually pretty patient, but I’m getting at my rope’s end,” Johnson said. “The effort’s there, but we’re just not getting it done. We’ve got the players to get it done. We’re just not getting it done. It’s time to get a little mad.”
After being limited to five hits by Wainwright (4-1, 1.93 ERA) over his 8 1-3 innings, Washington has scored a total of two runs over its last three games, all losses, and is now 10-10. The team was 2-2 on April 9, 2012, before eventually sitting at 14-4 on its way to the playoffs.
“It’s a different start than we had last year,” Rizzo said, “but we’re going to win a lot of games.”
Jayson Werth, Adam LaRoche, Ian Desmond, Anthony Rendon and Danny Espinosa — Washington’s 2-4-5-6-7 hitters — went a combined 0 for 18.
LaRoche, in particular, is struggling at the moment. Dating to Sunday, he is 0 for 10 with seven strikeouts, including 0 for 4 with four Ks against Wainwright. One came with the bases loaded in the sixth after Wainwright’s first walk all season put Harper aboard. Another came after Harper’s leadoff double in the ninth.
That’s when Edward Mujica came in to get the final two outs for his third save.
Wainwright needed all of four pitches to record three outs in the fifth inning, as Desmond, Rendon and Espinosa all grounded out. That gave Wainwright 13 consecutive outs. He needed only five pitches to get through the seventh against that same trio.
Allen Craig and Carlos Beltran drove in runs in the fourth off Nationals lefty Ross Detwiler (1-1), who gave up eight hits across six innings.
“We just know things aren’t really going well. We’re just not playing well right now,” Detwiler said. “We know that’s going to turn.”
He benefited from four double plays over the first five innings, including a nifty one started by second baseman Espinosa with a backhanded flip from his glove to shortstop Desmond. In the only early inning without a double play, the fourth, the Cardinals got to Detwiler with four consecutive opposite-field hits by right-handed batters that produced the two runs.
Washington dropped its fifth consecutive home game, and there even were scattered chants of “Let’s go, Cardinals!” among the announced crowd of 29,986.
“It’s bound to go our way. We have too much talent on this team,” Espinosa said. “We’re too good of a ballclub.”
Before the game, Johnson spoke about some of his hitters and pitchers “trying to do too much,” perhaps as a result of the expectations the club faced entering the season.
“Maybe from everybody picking us as a candidate to win our division,” Johnson said, “everybody’s trying to be a little better than they need to be.”
Of course, it was Johnson who came up with the phrase “World Series or bust” to describe what the Nationals have said will be his final season as their manager.
Notes: On Wednesday, Nationals RHP Stephen Strasburg (1-3, 2.96 ERA) faces Cardinals LHP Jaime Garcia (1-1, 3.22 ERA). … Washington claimed LHP Xavier Cedeno off waivers from the Houston Astros and optioned him to Triple-A Syracuse. … Johnson was surprised — and amused — to learn the team’s local cable channel, MASN, showed him doing pushups in the dugout during its broadcast of Washington’s 3-2 loss to St. Louis on Monday. “I was trying to get some blood flowing. That’s all I was doing,” Johnson said Tuesday. “I didn’t know it was going to be televised.”
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