WASHINGTON (AP) — Fly out. Line out. Pop up. Over and over.
Seventeen times, the Washington Nationals got out on batted balls that didn’t hit the ground, making Kyle Lohse’s job easier and leaving manager Davey Johnson in deeper despair over the state of his offense.
“It’s putting me in my loony bin,” Johnson said.
Lohse tossed eight crisp innings on short rest Wednesday, and the Milwaukee Brewers beat the Nationals 4-1, shutting down Bryce Harper and Co. for the second night in a row.
Lohse (4-6) allowed one run and four hits, walked one and struck out a season-high seven against the eager-swinging Nationals, who barely avoided back-to-back shutouts and fell back to .500. He was pitching on two days’ rest after his last start was limited to 1 2-3 innings because of a 2-hour, 20-minute rain delay on Sunday at Pittsburgh.
Nevertheless, his impressive June (2-0, 2.34 ERA) carried into July. He threw 71 of his 103 pitches for strikes. Some were hit hard, but there was almost always someone there to make the catch. Carlos Gomez had an especially busy time, making eight putouts in center field.
“For me, it was a result of their approach at the plate,” Lohse said. “If they’re going to keep trying to put the ball in the air, I’m going to keep trying to get it as low as I can. It’s kind of hard to hit those low fastballs, low sliders, up out of the park.”
Harper, in his third game back from a knee injury, went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts and dropped a ball in left field for the second consecutive game. He is 1 for 12 since his return from the disabled list, and the one hit was an electrifying first-inning homer in the first game that helped spur a 10-5 win.
To be fair, Harper made solid contact twice, but Gomez chased the first one down on the warning track and had to sprint and stretch to snag the second one in left-center.
Nevertheless, a team that scored a combined 23 runs Sunday and Monday has since reverted to its collective season-long slump at the plate. Washington’s .237 batting average is fourth-worst in the majors.
“It looks like we’re getting good at-bats,” Johnson said. “We’re just not getting it done. I don’t have any answers.”
Ross Detwiler (2-7), yet another Nationals pitcher longing for run support, was charged with four runs and eight hits in six innings, although two runs were unearned because of Harper’s error leading off the sixth. In Detwiler’s seven losses, the Nationals have scored a combined three runs while he’s been in the game.
The Brewers scored a pair in the fifth on a single by Norichika Aoki with the infield in. In the sixth, Harper dropped a line drive off the bat of Aramis Ramirez. The error proved costly when Logan Schafer drove a two-run triple into right-center with two out.
Harper, converted from catcher after the Nationals drafted him No. 1 overall in 2010, also misplayed a fly ball on the warning track in Milwaukee’s four-run eighth inning in Tuesday’s 4-0 win. That play was ruled a hit, although Harper said he simply dropped the ball.
The Nationals averted the shutout on a homer in the seventh by Anthony Rendon, who also came up to the plate as the potential tying run with two out and two on in the ninth against Francisco Rodriguez.
Rendon ended the game with — what else? — a fly ball to Gomez in deep center.
“Next time,” Lohse said, “it might be all ground balls. Who knows?”
NOTES: The game’s most embarrassing gaffe was committed by Brewers 2B Rickie Weeks, who thought there were two outs in the eighth inning when he ran almost all the way from first to third on a flyout to deep center. He started to retreat when he realized there was only one out. Ramirez was on third, and he compounded the blunder by not hustling home to complete a sacrifice fly before Weeks was doubled off. Had Ramirez crossed the plate in time, the run would have counted. … Rodriguez picked up his seventh save. … The Brewers have won two straight after losing six in a row. They welcomed SS Jean Segura and Gomez back to the lineup after both sat out Tuesday’s game with nagging injuries. … Detwiler made the start despite feeling stiffness in his lower back after his previous outing. He is 0-3 since returning from the disabled list last month following a back strain. … The game started at 6:05 p.m., an hour earlier than usual, because the teams have an 11:05 a.m. start on July 4. … Nationals RHP Dan Haren, on the disabled list with a sore right shoulder, threw a simulated game and appears set to return to the rotation July 9. … Washington C Wilson Ramos (left hamstring) will return from the DL and start Thursday, barring a setback following his final rehab game Wednesday night.