Shaky fielding dooms Nats in opener

Shaky fielding dooms Nats in opener

DENVER -- This time, the Washington Nationals have nobody to blame but themselves.

Back in mid-June, when the Nationals were on a nice roll and within four games of .500, the Colorado Rockies went into RFK Stadium and swept a four-game series -- and the Nationals have been sinking ever since.

Arriving at Coors Field on Thursday on another relative roll with six wins in seven games, the Nationals promptly gave away a game to the National League West's last-place team with a nightmarish bottom of the eighth.

After tying the game with two runs in the top of the eighth, the Nationals committed two errors and allowed five runs in the bottom of the inning for a 10-5 loss in a game delayed 2 hours, 11 minutes at the start by rain.

"It's disheartening any time you play this bad," manager Frank Robinson said. "We just didn't make the plays -- simple plays. You don't make those plays? Geez. We score, then we go out and give it right back. That's been happening a lot this year."

Pinch-hitter Austin Kearns and Brian Schneider delivered back-to-back RBI hits off reliever Jeremy Affeldt, but the eighth-inning rally was cut short when Jose Vidro was thrown out trying to go from first to third on Kearns' hit for the second out. But that was a minor mistake compared to the defensive unraveling in the bottom of the inning.

Losing pitcher Ryan Wagner's two mistakes -- neither of which were ruled errors -- led directly to his third loss of the season.

With two outs and runners on first and second, former National Jamey Carroll hit a high chopper back at Wagner, who left his feet and got his glove on the ball, but couldn't field it cleanly. The ball deflected past the mound, where charging shortstop Felipe Lopez bobbled it and couldn't make a throw before Troy Tulowitski scored all the way from second base on a ball that went approximately 70 feet.

The play originally was scored a single, then changed to an error on Wagner, then reversed again to a single and RBI for Carroll. But in the minds of Robinson and Wagner, it was a play that should have been made.

"I don't know what he did," Robinson said of Wagner. "What's there to rush? It was a bouncer right back to him."

Added Wagner: "I should have had it. It was a routine play. You've got to have it. I wasn't concerned with [Carroll's] speed. It was just one of those things."

And it was only the first "thing". Wagner also didn't get over in time to cover first on Todd Helton's RBI ground ball single to Nick Johnson, and Johnson ended up with an error on a throw that allowed Carroll to move from first to third. Garrett Atkins and Matt Holliday both hit well-placed ground balls that went for singles, and the other error of the inning occurred when defensive replacement George Lombard misplayed Brad Hawpe's line drive to right field, allowing the final run to score.

Asked if Lombard just missed the ball, Robinson said, "The ball missed him."

Wagner was much less upset at himself over the run of ground balls than his misplay of Carroll's bouncer.

"I'm a sinkerball guy," he said. "There are going to be times when I go out there, and they're not going to hit it at guys. Then there are other times when I get a lot of hard-hit ground balls right at guys. This time, they hit some balls not as well, but they had eyes."

The Rockies built an early 5-3 lead against starting pitcher Jason Bergmann, who didn't help his cause any in the planned three-men-for-two-spots arrangement at the back of the rotation this month.

Bergmann, who is expected to share those spots with Mike O'Connor and Billy Traber, couldn't make it out of the fourth inning and allowed five runs, five hits and three walks, two of which scored.

Holliday's opposite-field two-run homer gave the Rockies a 4-1 lead in the third, and after Carroll's second of three hits, Robinson lifted Bergmann in favor of Brett Campbell, who pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings in his Major League debut and became the franchise-record 57th player to be used this season.

Otherwise, highlights were hard to find.

Ryan Church, who got an opportunity to play due to Kearns' slight groin injury, had two hits and an RBI. And Johnson belted a 435-foot homer to center off Rockies starter Aaron Cook in the sixth to reach the 20-homer plateau for the first time in his career.

Tony DeMarco is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.