Nationals offense sputters again

Just when the Washington Nationals felt they had some momentum – enough for manager Davey Johnson to end his razor boycott – along came another thud that knocked them down a rung in the NL East.

Leadoff hitter Denard Span scored in the first inning – and that was it for the run production. Dan Haren couldn’t make it to the fifth inning. Washington fell 10-1 to the New York Mets on Wednesday night, the ninth time this season the club has lost by six runs or more.

”I’m frustrated,” Span said. ”I can’t speak for everybody else, but we’re better than this.”

The Nationals had felt buoyed by a ninth-inning comeback in the series opener Tuesday, the first time they had come from behind to win this season when trailing after the sixth inning. Johnson was clean-shaven Wednesday, having rid himself of the scraggly mess of facial hair that had become his personal protest over his team’s lack of hitting.

But Washington’s bats remained cold. The Nationals have scored 11 runs while hitting .197 with 42 strikeouts over six games. They had men on second and third with one out in the fourth inning, but Span struck out swinging and Jayson Werth struck out looking.

”Boy, it’s been difficult,” Johnson said. ”But it seems like they were swinging the bats a little bit better tonight. Just didn’t hit with men on base. It’s frustrating.”

Haren (4-7) allowed five runs over four innings, including two home runs by nemesis Marlon Byrd. Byrd is 10 for 18 in his career against the right-hander. Haren’s ERA rose to 5.45.

”I feel bad for the guys, letting them down. I can’t be this inconsistent,” he said. ”I’m the same guy five days ago that went through one of the toughest lineups in baseball and kept us there. And then lay another egg tonight. It’s just – I gotta be better. I gotta figure it out for these guys. No one feels worse about it than I do.”

The win put the Mets above .400 and the Nationals below .500 – a succinct reflection of the mixed fortunes of both clubs – and also dropped preseason favorite Washington to third place behind Philadelphia in the NL East. The Nationals trail division-leading Atlanta by eight games.

The Nationals only lost eight games by six-plus runs a year ago. Now they’ve surpassed that total with more than 100 games to go.

Meanwhile, the starting rotation that has performed so well is showing some cracks. Stephen Strasburg, sidelined with a strained back muscle, joined Ross Detwiler on the 15-day disabled list Wednesday.

”It doesn’t matter whether we’re in second or third,” Span said. ”If you’re not in first, it really doesn’t matter.”

NOTES: Black smoke was visible beyond the right-field bleachers throughout the game, the result of a fire at a hardware store about a mile away. The smoke wafted over the dome of the nearby U.S. Capitol nearby but did not drift over the ballpark and had no effect on the game. … Nationals LHP Ian Krol made his major league debut by pitching a scoreless sixth, and Anthony Rendon made his first major league start at second base, taking over the position now that Danny Espinosa is on the DL.

Follow Joseph White on Twitter: