Wednesday, July 11, 2018

PITTSBURGH — Matt Wieters struck out to end the game and walked away slowly, his black bat in his right hand.

Mark Reynolds, who had been on deck as the possible tying run, took the weighted donut off his bat and shuffled a few feet into the Nationals first-base dugout and towards the quiet clubhouse.

As fireworks went off in center field at scenic PNC Park, on the banks of the Allegheny River, the Nationals were left to ponder another wasted series against a losing team after a 2-0 setback to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday afternoon before 21,083 fans and those watching on Facebook.

“You can’t feel sorry for yourself in this game because nobody else is going to,” said catcher Wieters, who returned from the disabled list Monday. “We had some good swings.”

Washington, with one series left before Tuesday’s All-Star Game, was blanked for the ninth time since June 1. The Nationals had just five hits, with the only extra-base knock by a pitcher with a batting average of .065.

The Nationals hit several balls very hard, including a lineout to center by Anthony Rendon to end the third after starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez had doubled to lead off. First baseman Matt Adams hit the ball to the warning track twice with no good results.

“A lot of times you have to give credit to the guy on the mound on the other side. He did a good job of mixing it up,” Wieters said of Pirates starter Trevor Williams, who threw five scoreless innings. “It is a little frustrating. But we have an offense that can go out and put up four or five runs a game and rely on our starting pitching like Gio did today. We just have to stay the course and keep working and it will turn around soon.”

The question, of course, is when will that happen?

The Nationals have not won two series in a row since late May when they swept two bad teams on the road: the Marlins and the Orioles. The Washington team batting average has fallen to .244.

Washington (46-46) begins a series Thursday in New York against the Mets with ace Max Scherzer on the mound. The Nationals started play Wednesday 5.5 games back of first-place Philadelphia in the National League East and have just three wins from starting pitchers since June 7 — three days before Stephen Strasburg went on the disabled list.

“We just put this series behind us and move to the next series, we start off the series with the right man (Scherzer) on the mound and take it forward. It is what it is, it’s one of those games you just want to put behind you and move forward,” Gonzalez said.

Bryce Harper was 0-for-2 as his averaged dropped to .213. The Nationals were 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position and left eight runners on base.

Gonzalez was one of the few bright spots, as he gave up six hits and two runs in six innings while throwing only 89 pitches. He still hasn’t won since late May.

Wieters (0-for-4, hitting .219) was catching Gonzalez for the first time since early May.

“He was able to locate when he needed to. It is big for him to get aggressive and get them swinging. He did that today. He made pitches when he had to,” Wieters said.

The only runs of the game came on a two-run homer by Starling Marte of the Pirates in the last of the third.

“It was a changeup. It was probably a bad call on my part,” Wieters said. “It wasn’t a terrible pitch. He is a professional hitter. We just didn’t quite get him engaged enough on the fastball (inside) before we went with the changeup.”

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