Brewers 4, Nats 3

This was a truly bizarre game. It featured: a run that was not counted until long after an inning had ended; a starting pitcher who left early with an injury; a reliever who arrived at the ballpark two hours before first pitch and tossed two key innings anyway; a beaning; a ninth-inning comeback off a closer who had been perfect so far this season; and finally a walk-off single that handed the Nats one more crushing loss on this frustrating 10-game road trip.

It will come to a merciful end on Sunday afternoon in Milwaukee. At best Washington will return home 4-6 to start the second half. Yet again there were chances to do better. The Nats fought back from down a run in the top of the ninth, but wasted two chances to take the lead. It cost them in the bottom of the ninth when Brewers slugger Ryan Braun crushed a one-out single off Drew Storen. That scored Rickie Weeks easily from second base to end it.

Washington starter J.D. Martin left the game with a lower-back injury with one out in the third inning. Watching on MASN you could see him uncomfortably flexing his legs as early as the first inning after certain pitches. Eventually, catcher Ivan Rodriguez came out to check on Martin in the second. By the next inning – after allowing three hits, three walks and a run  – manager Jim Riggleman had seen enough. Luckily for Washington, Collin Balester had been recalled from Triple-A Syracuse just for this game since the team had an extra roster spot. Balester gave up one run on two hits, including a homer and a beaning of Weeks, who was okay after a few scary moments leading off the fifth when a pitch slammed off his batting helmet. At least Balester also managed to get the Nats into that frame down just 2-1. 

But there were those chances at the plate again. Michael Morse had two hits on Saturday. But he struck out swinging with the game tied at 2-2, the bases loaded and two down in the sixth. To their credit the Brewers didn’t let their own opportunity slip away. In the bottom of that inning Jonathan Lucroy – the No. 8 batter - crushed a Miguel Batista fastball way over the head of Roger Bernadina in center to score Jim Edmonds and make it 3-2.

Milwaukee’s bullpen retired the next six Washington batters to keep it that way. But Ryan Zimmerman and Josh Willingham led off the ninth with base hits off Brewers closer John Axford. Riggleman actually pinch hit Nyjer Morgan for Morse with runners at first and second and none out. The move was risky – giving away an out always is – but it worked. Morgan dropped a perfect bunt down the third-base line and reached safely to load the bases. Then Adam Dunn pinch hit for Rodriguez and his pop fly to right-center field was just deep enough to score a tagging Zimmerman from third. The other runners moved up on the throw by center fielder Carlos Gomez, but Wil Nieves (fly out to right) and Alberto Gonzalez (ground out to second) couldn’t come up with the extra clutch hit they needed

It was one of those nights. At one point the scoreboard didn’t credit the Nats with a run scored in the fifth inning. Edmonds had made a sensational diving catch in center. Willingham tagged at third base as he should have. But Morse took off at the crack of the bat and was doubled off first. It took a while for the official scorer to realize Willingham crossed home plate first and even longer for the scoreboard to acknowledge that fact. So it finally went down as an RBI for Ian Desmond and cut the Brewers’ lead to 2-1.

In the ninth, Storen recorded one out, but then gave up a hit to Weeks and walked Joe Inglett. Bad move. Braun is one of the game’s most feared hitters and he ripped a sinker over Willingham’s head in left and off the wall to end it. Washington dropped to 42-56 with the loss. Left-handed pitcher Ross Detwiler will be added to the roster officially tomorrow morning. The 24-year-old makes his first big-league start since last September after hip surgery in January kept him off the mound for months. But he’s looked good in eight minor-league starts so far. The organization hopes he can pick up where he left off late last season when Detwiler flashed the promise that made him the No. 6 overall pick in the 2007 draft. Starts like this one are about all that’s left to look forward to in 2010.

Nats Notes

» Martin told MASN after the game that he has a little bit of pain and discomfort in his lower back, something that he’s battled almost all season. That injury kept him off the mound for two minor-league starts in late April and has recurred again over the past month. He is expected to go on the disabled list, according to reports from Miller Park. The Nats can go with four starters for a bit thanks to Monday's off day. Feel free to play the "Who's next?" parlor game. Stephen Strasburg, Livan Hernandez and Craig Stammen each pitch on six days' rest against Atlanta next week at Nationals Park. Detwiler would then pitch on normal rest against Philadelphia on Friday. The mystery fifth starter - John Lannan? Matt Chico? Jason Marquis? Scott Olsen? - isn't needed until next Saturday against the Phillies. 

» An added bonus for Balester? He was supposed to head right back to Syracuse after the game to make room for Detwiler. But Martin's injury - and no need for a fifth starter for a week - means he gets to stick around as a long reliever. It's a good audition for a guy who finally gave up starting after serious struggles in April.

» Dunn earned most of the night off at first base before finally pinch hitting and driving in the tying run in the ninth. Instead, Riggleman gave Gonzalez, normally a middle infielder, his first ever start at that position. Gonzalez had to borrow Dunn’s glove.

» Morgan also got the day off until he pinch hit in the ninth. Zimmerman, who batted cleanup on Saturday night, is expected to sit out the final game of the road trip on Sunday afternoon with Willie Harris playing third base in his place. Willingham sat out Friday night’s game.   

» Washington managed just four hits and two runs off Milwaukee starter Manny Parra, who didn’t earn a decision but lowered his ERA from 5.52 to 5.33 in six innings of work. Parra did walk three batters.

» In 22 career games, Braun is 25-for-84 against the Nats with seven homers, two triples, five doubles and 15 RBI. On Saturday night he was 2-for-5 with a homer and the game-winning single. He even stole a base to go with his two RBI. Maybe the Brewers will give him a day off tomorrow. It’s only fair.


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