Brewers 7, Nats 5

It looked like the Nats were in control of Friday’s series opener against Milwaukee. Michael Morse hit a pair of home runs, including a three-run blast in the second inning. Starting pitcher Craig Stammen looked strong through 4 2/3 innings. Ryan Zimmerman had an RBI single.

But that’s the way this weekend might go. A 5-1 lead is absolutely not safe in Miller Park against one of the sport’s best offenses. In the blink of an eye Stammen gave away two runs and then the Brewers feasted on the Washington bullpen. By the end of the seventh inning it was 7-5. Milwaukee starter Chris Narveson retired the final nine batters he faced, reliever Kameron Loe pitched two scoreless innings and closer John Axford dispatched the Nats with ease in the ninth. Eighteen of the final 19 Washington batters failed to reach base. Only Adam Dunn managed a double during that stretch with two out in the eighth inning.

Stammen looked ready to build on his fine performance last Sunday in Florida, a six-inning, one-run effort that ended in a loss. But it was a start for a pitcher searching for some consistency. With two outs in the fifth inning on Friday an infield hit by the speedy Alcides Escobar – shortstop Ian Desmond made a nice play, but first baseman Adam Dunn couldn’t scoop the bounced throw – led to a two-run frame. A broken-bat single up the middle by Narveson hurt. Stammen then walked leadoff batter Rickie Weeks and gave up a single to Jim Edmonds. He struck out slugger Ryan Braun to escape the jam, which was nice. But Stammen’s pitch count had risen into the 90s on a humid night – what’s new – in the Midwest. That meant manager Jim Riggleman had to turn to his bullpen early.   

The Nats thought they caught a break when Milwaukee right fielder Corey Hart jammed his thumb trying to make a catch in the third inning. That’s 22 homers headed to the bench. Awesome. Instead, Edmonds came on to play right field. He had that RBI hit in the fifth and in the seventh slammed a two-run homer off reliever Sean Burnett, who continues to struggle against left-handed batters. Prince Fielder later doubled off him in that inning. The Brewers had already tied the game in the sixth when a Tyler Clippard walk to Casey McGehee set up an RBI triple by Carlos Gomez, the No. 7 batter. Escobar, the No. 8 hitter, followed with a double to make it 5-5 as the bottom of the Milwaukee order tortured the Nats.

Edmonds’ homer effectively ended a disappointing night. Stammen hit a wall in the fifth with two down and Escobar and Narveson up. That can’t happen if he wants to stay in the rotation. Ross Detwiler is already up to start on Sunday for the injured Luis Atilano, officially placed on the disabled list Friday with bone chips in his elbow. When Scott Olsen or John Lannan or Jason Marquis is ready Stammen will be back in Syracuse. It wasn’t a bad outing at all. But he has to finish and he didn’t. Simple as that.

“That disturbed me tonight a little bit because they did it without their big boys,” Riggleman told MASN afterwards. “That one stung.”

But the offense can’t just stop hitting, either. The Nats had Narveson on the ropes early and he retired the final nine batters he faced. That gave the Brewers’ explosive bats a chance. Clippard had pitched well in the Cincinnati series, but reverted back to his form immediately before the All-Star break. Washington did little damage against a Brewers bullpen that is simply awful and has been all season. Though that’s no fault of Loe, who lowered his ERA to 1.53 in 29 appearances with two scoreless innings in relief of Narveson. He retired six of the seven batters he faced.

It didn’t hurt that Milwaukee flashed some leather around, either. Gomez made two fine catches in center on balls hit by Zimmerman and Nyjer Morgan – the latter a diving catch where he ran down a line drive in the right-center gap. Those potential hits might have helped Washington start rallies in the fifth and seventh innings.

So the Nats drop to 3-5 on the road trip and will need to win the next two to finish .500 – with J.D. Martin and Detwiler on the mound in an unforgiving locale against an unforgiving offense. Detwiler was named today as the starter after a fine beginning to his season at Double-A Harrisburg. He will pitch on three days rest, according to Riggleman, so no telling how much they’ll actually get out of him. But if Detwiler continues to pitch as well as he has in the minors – a 2.27 ERA in eighth starts, seven of them at Harrisburg – then he’ll stick around the rest of the season. Detwiler was expected to compete for a rotation spot in spring training before a labral tear in his hip required surgery in January. Washington dropped to 42-55 with the loss. Before Detwiler gets his first chance of 2010 it’s up to Martin (1-5, 4.14 ERA) to contain the Brewers after a rough start in Cincinnati last Monday when he gave up six runs in 5 1/3 innings.

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