Hill has rough homecoming

Hill has rough homecoming

TORONTO -- Marlon Byrd slammed his bat to the ground after striking out with two men on to end the sixth inning. Nick Johnson let loose an angry yell after popping up to third with a runner on first in the eighth.

It was a clearly frustrated Nationals team that lost, 6-1, to the Blue Jays on Wednesday night at Rogers Centre. The loss was Washington's 13th in its last 17 games, and the club is now 13 games under .500 with a 33-46 record.

Washington manager Frank Robinson held a closed-door meeting with his team after the game, and afterwards said the Nats weren't performing well, both physically and mentally, on the field.

"We have to do some soul-searching," he said. "We've got to start playing to our capabilities."

The game followed the Nats' recent blueprint for defeat. The starting pitching was solid, but allowed one big inning to put the team behind. Right-hander Shawn Hill (1-3) cruised through four innings, but he gave up four runs in the fifth, with the big hit being a two-run triple from Jays right fielder Reed Johnson.

Facing a deficit, the Nats delivered hits but didn't come through with enough big at-bats to get back in the game. Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman drove in Jose Vidro with an RBI double in the eighth for Washington's lone run of the game, and the team's first score in 19 innings against the Jays (43-34).

Jays left-hander Ted Lilly (8-7) held the Nats scoreless on five hits in six innings, and recorded six strikeouts due to what Robinson considered to be a lack of discipline from the Washington lineup.

"When they get throwing those breaking balls, we act like we've never seen one before," Robinson said. "When we get two strikes on us, they don't have to throw us a strike -- just throw us a breaking ball down in the dirt and we'll swing at it."

Washington's offensive woes are approaching critical mass. The Nats have scored only 25 runs in their last nine games, and stranded 13 runners on base against the Jays in the first two games of the three-game set. They were 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position, bringing their team RISP average to .251 -- 24th in the Majors.

"We're not having good at-bats with men on base," Robinson said. "We're hitting pitches that get us out, and we're not disciplined enough to take that pitch. Everybody is going up there trying to do too much."

Not even the little things seem to be going right at the plate. After center fielder Byrd led off the fifth inning with a double, catcher Brian Schneider attempted to bunt Byrd over to third. Instead, Schneider's bunt popped up in the air and was caught by Toronto catcher Bengie Molina for an easy out.

"When you're not going good, you have to do those things," Robinson said. "The lack of executing is magnified."

Schneider made no excuses for his poor sacrifice effort.

"It was my job to get it and done, and I just didn't do a good job," the catcher said. "Right there, if I get the bunt down, then we get a base hit, then it's 1-0 and it changes the whole complexion of the game."

It seems like Washington's 16-6 run between May 18 and June 9 is a distant memory as the Nats are now battling with Atlanta to stay out of the National League East basement.

With the season in danger of slipping away, Robinson promised changes to the lineup for Thursday's game to try to spark some offense. His message for his team was that everyone on the roster -- including himself and his coaches -- need to put Wednesday's game behind them and simplify things.

"Everybody is going to have to leave here tonight," Robinson said, "and take a look in the mirror and say, 'Starting tomorrow in that ballgame, what can I bring to the ballpark to help this ballclub turn this thing around? What am I capable of doing to help this ballclub?'

"We have to bring that energy and that approach to the ballpark tomorrow for nine innings," he added. "Not three or four innings, but for nine."

Mark Polishukis an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.