Wednesday, July 4, 2018

The Nationals’ core values include excellence, performance and accountability.

On the field, at least, those goals are not being meet, as two-time defending NL East champion Washington was blanked yet again on Wednesday in a 3-0 loss to the powerful Boston Red Sox in a special July 4 day game at steamy Nationals Park before a sellout crowd.

The Nationals (42-43) were swept in the three-game series, have lost five games in a row and have not scored in eight games since June 1, including three times in the last 10 days.

“We just have to stick with it,” said Nationals manager Dave Martinez, as he sat between two large banners with the excellence, performance and accountability motto. “This thing is going to turn around. I know we are going to play better. I am not going to hold my head down.”

That has been a common refrain the past few weeks from the upbeat Martinez, a former bench coach with the Rays and Cubs under free spirit and wine guru Joe Maddon.

But the narrative changed a little Wednesday afternoon as a players meeting was held by many of the Nationals after the latest loss.

“We are going to be alright,” said reliever Matt Grace, who came on to pitch in the second inning. “It is just a matter of when. We just came together (in the meeting). We are going to play free, we are going to play loose. We are going to play for each other. We are going to turn it around.”

Grace was needed early when starter Erick Fedde was forced to leave with right shoulder stiffness in the second. He underwent an MRI after the game, and Fedde said there was no structural damage.

Martinez also said he was limited in options to pinch-hit for starting catcher Pedro Severino, now batting .172, since backup catcher Spencer Kieboom was not feeling well.

Grace at least rose to the occasion, allowing no runs and one hit with four strikeouts in four innings.

Losing pitcher Ryan Madson (2-4, 4.55 ERA) pitched the seventh inning and allowed a sacrifice fly off the bat to Red Sox center fielder and Virginia native Jackie Bradley, Jr.

Left-fielder Adam Eaton, playing rookie Juan Soto, caught the ball in foul territory on a great catch and threw the ball to home but was charged with an error as catcher Pedro Severino couldn’t handle the hop as Rafael Devers scored the first run of the game.

“We need an out right there,” Martinez said.

Martinez said it didn’t make sense for Eaton to let the ball drop in foul territory.

Madson then threw a wild pitch that got past Severino to allow Eduardo Nunez to score for a 2-0 lead.

“Those plays should happen,” Martinez said.

Bradley had an RBI double in the ninth for a 3-0 cushion and Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel closed the door in the bottom half of the inning, fanning Bryce Harper for the first out, Michael A. Taylor for the second and getting Wilmer Difo to end the game on a foul pop to the catcher.

Harper was 0-for-4 as his average fell to .215.

The Nationals also had little success against Boston starter Eduardo Rodriguez (10-3), a former Orioles minor leaguer who once played in Frederick and Bowie. The lefty gave up no runs and three hits in six innings and the Nationals are now 8-18 against left-handed starting pitchers.

Washington began Wednesday seven games back of the first-place Atlanta Braves in the National League East.

“If you look at the game of baseball, a lot of good teams go through a stretch like this,” first baseman Matt Adams said before the game. “This team’s going to show everybody that we’re a group of winners.”

Martinez keeps seeking answers. Perhaps help is on the way as the Marlins come to town to begin a four-game series Thursday night.

“I don’t see any guys hanging their heads,” Martinez said. “We have to stay positive (and) keep moving forward.”

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