Reds 7, Nats 2

It’s all slipping away now. No one wants to see this happen to the Nats yet again. But this team is killing itself night after night. They were optimistic that in the second half they had the pieces to put together decent starting pitching and a better offensive approach. It hasn’t happened. They have scored six runs in the first four games since the All-Star break. After three quality starts from the rotation, J.D. Martin was upended by two bad innings. Considering he had been the most consistent of the back-end options for the Nats that was pretty deflating. Oh, and the team was again victimized by its own sloppy defense. This time Willie Harris – making a rare start in the outfield – botched a throw into the infield on a bases-loaded single by the Reds. That allowed an extra run to score during that second-inning rally and each runner to move up. Martin walked his third batter of the frame and then somehow gave up a two-run single to Reds pitcher Johnny Cueto. Innings don’t come more soul crushing than that.

So Cincinnati had a 4-0 lead, the two teams waited out a 42-minute rain delay and Martin eventually gave up homers to Miguel Cairo and Jonny Gomes – who had hit three in a game last season against the Nats at Great American Ballpark. That made it 6-2 in the bottom of the sixth. The Nats have lost three of four to start the second half and – incredibly – have scored just two runs in the last 30 innings. They did snap an 0-for-20 stretch with runners in scoring position thanks to a Cristian Guzman single in the top of the third inning. That followed a Nyjer Morgan sacrifice fly. But Washington let a golden opportunity pass again – sound familiar – when it left the bases loaded in the sixth down just 4-2. Harris ended that threat by flying out to left.

Martin has been pretty good lately. But he struggled with his command tonight and he just doesn’t have the stuff to get away with that against an excellent offensive club. Only odd thing was he walked three batters in the second inning alone. He’d issued five walks in his previous seven starts combined. In 22 major-league starts dating to last year, Martin (1-5, 4.14 ERA) has 65 strikeouts to just 32 walks . That ratio should lead to success. But not against the Reds (52-42) on a muggy night in the Queen City. Cincinnati hit those two solo homers in the sixth to break the game open. Cairo had hit all of one homer in his previous three seasons. Now, he’s got three already in 2010. Gomes blasted No. 13 of the year. 

Cueto (9-2, 3.39 ERA), meanwhile, just outpitched Martin. He tossed six innings, allowing four hits and four walks with four strikeouts. Washington managed three walks – and no hits – off the Cincinnati bullpen. Even a first-and-second, no outs situation in the eighth was cut short when Josh Willingham popped out to second and Ivan Rodriguez hit into his 17th double play of the season. Not much else to say. The Nats have to find a way to turn this around starting Tuesday or the season really will slip away from them quickly. In Saturday and Sunday’s games at Florida they pounded out hits and just couldn’t push the runs home. This time wasn’t much better. Washington managed just four hits total, but drew seven walks. That provided more than enough chances to crawl back into the game. It just didn’t happen.

Guzman produced an RBI single to snap the 0-for-20 skid with runners in scoring position. That was his lone hit of the night. Ryan Zimmerman was 0-for-2 with a pair of walks. Adam Dunn posted that exact stat line to match his teammate. Willingham was 1-for-3 with a walk. Meanwhile, after the game the Nats optioned outfielder Justin Maxwell back to Triple-A Syracuse. That move was to make room for right-handed pitcher Luis Atilano, who was sent down to the minors during the All-Star break because the team knew as the No. 5 starter he'd have a long layoff. But Atilano, a rookie, wasn't very good in his minor-league start for the Chiefs so you wonder how much rope he has to stay in the rotation for any length of time. He gave up five runs in 2 1/3 innings and allowed seven hits and three walks last week against Pawtucket We'll see if he can bounce back when he faces the Reds on Tuesday night. Atilano is 6-6 with a 4.85 ERA in 15 starts this season.

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