Adam LaRoche’s slump is now at 26 hitless at-bats with strikeouts accounting for half the outs.
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Unfamiliarity with Reds rookie pitcher Tony Cingrani had the Nationals collectively looking awkward at the plate.
With a chance to complete a four-game series sweep, Washington struck out 11 times against the left-hander — including four in one inning — and 14 overall against five Cincinnati pitchers in a 5-2 loss to the Reds on Sunday.
In his third career start, Cingrani (2-0) pitched six scoreless innings and allowed only two hits, one coming off the bat of Nationals rookie Anthony Rendon. The pair played together two years at Rice so at least Rendon had some heads up of what was coming. Others were less fortunate.
”He was good,” said shortstop Ian Desmond who struck out in his two at-bats against Cingrani. ”I don’t even know — is he a rookie?”
Cingrani’s reputation as a hard-thrower worked against the Nationals, who finished their homestand 3-4.
”Threw more breaking balls than I thought,” Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. ”He kept us quiet.”
Quiet is a kind way to describe what LaRoche is going through. The first baseman struck out in each of his first three at-bats, two against Cingrani, and finished 0 for 4. He has whiffed 13 times since his last hit on April 21.
”I knew it was going to be a tough matchup for him today,” Johnson said of LaRoche. ”I said I’m concerned about what you need. He said, `Well sitting doesn’t do me any good. I need to play.’ I give him the nod. It’s just the little things. His timing is a little off. Maybe his pitch selection is a little off.”
In the fourth inning, Washington loaded the bases with one-out. After Desmond struck out swinging, LaRoche had a similar result though the bat didn’t leave his shoulder on strike three.
The skid dropped LaRoche’s average to .135.
”I’ve got one of two options here,” the first baseman said. ”I can either keep my head up, keep swinging or I can pack up and go home. I’m not ready to go home yet.”
Ross Detwiler (1-2) allowed three earned runs in five innings. The Nationals’ starter matched his career-high by surrendering 11 hits, including four infield singles.
Not only did No. 9 hitter Cingrani and No. 8 hitter Corky Miller score after their infield hits, Miller scored on an infield hit by Zack Cozart.
A clean two-run single by Brandon Phillips coming after Joey Votto’s first-inning double proved costliest.
”The biggest mistake he made was Phillips in the first inning,” Johnson said. ”Had him 2-2 and he was coming in and he left it over the middle of the plate.”
The Reds, 12-3 at home, are still a major league-worst 2-9 on the road.
Cingrani pitched three perfect innings before Denard Span reached base to lead off the fourth – on a strikeout and wild pitch. Danny Espinosa followed with a double, but Cingrani struck out three more hitters to escape the inning without allowing any runs.
In doing so, Cingrani joined Joe Nuxhall, Mario Soto, Tim Birtsas and Frankie Rodriguez as the only Reds with a four-strikeout inning.
Cingrani also became the first Cincinnati rookie to strike out 10 in a game since Johnny Cueto struck out 10 against San Diego on July 22, 2008, and the first left-handed Cincinnati rookie to do so since Dennys Reyes struck out 12 against Pittsburgh on Aug. 20, 1998.
Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki doubled in the seventh, scoring Desmond.
Desmond then doubled in the eighth to drive in Bryce Harper, who walked in a 10-pitch plate appearance.
Aroldis Chapman earned his fifth save in five opportunities.
NOTES: Nationals reliever Henry Rodriguez walked Miller in the eighth inning on a pitch that caromed so hard off the backstop, the ball nearly hit Rodriguez on the mound. … The Nationals and Reds completed their seven-game season series, with Washington losing four. … Basketball Hall of Famers Elgin Baylor and Dave Bing and Pro Football Hall of Famer Willie Wood were among 10 members inducted before the game into the Washington D.C. Sports Hall of Fame. … Washington RHP Stephen Strasburg (1-4, 3.16) will face Braves RHP Julio Teheran (1-0, 5.48) on Monday in Atlanta.