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Second inning ends up haunting Nats

Second inning ends up haunting Nats

PITTSBURGH -- After Friday's 3-2 loss to the Pirates, Nationals manager Manny Acta considered having a meeting with his team. He didn't like the way the players were going about their business on the field. Lack of preparation, he thought, was the reason Washington was winless on this road trip and had lost nine out of its last 12 games.

But Acta didn't have the meeting after Friday's game, and on Saturday, Acta watched the Nationals get pounded by the Pirates, 7-2, in front of 26,959 fans on at PNC Park.

Right-hander Jason Bergmann had his worst game since April 5 against the Diamondbacks. He lasted four innings and gave up six runs on eight hits. The offensive struggles continued as the Nationals collected five hits.

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Acta, who had seen enough, and finally held his closed-door meeting after Saturday's game.

The meeting marked the second in-season team gathering. On April 11, after the Nationals dropped to 1-8 after an 8-3 loss to the Braves, Acta talked about how the pitchers were not being aggressive in the strike zone and the position players were making too many fundamental mistakes and not catching the ball.

This time, Acta told his players not to get too relaxed. He reminded them they were playing very good baseball not too long ago and should be more prepared on the field. Like in the previous team meeting, Acta used a kind and gentle approach.

"I was trying to take the team's temperature and to let them know to keep grinding it [out]," Acta said. "We were in this position before, and we have to keep on working hard and do the things that are going to help win the ballgame. I know some guys that are struggling, but I don't think they are going to end the season where they are right now. But we got to get right to it, because games are just going by."

Infielder/outfielder Robert Fick agreed with Acta's decision to hold the meeting. Fick said all that Acta wants is to have the game played the right way.

"He said a few days ago, we were better than a [number] of teams in the league," Fick said. "We had been playing some good ball. He just didn't want us to fall into that trap of being a losing ballclub like it started out at the beginning of the year. He has been here before with the Expos and Nationals and he is here to make a difference. He is just a little concerned with our preparation. He didn't call anybody out or anything."

Lack of pitching and offense was the reason Washington lost Saturday. Bergmann has been arguably the Nationals' best starting pitcher this season, but he had nothing in the tank against the Pirates.

After Washington gave him a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning off left-hander Tom Gorzelanny, Bergmann quickly gave it up in the bottom of the second inning when Pittsburgh batted around and scored six runs. Jack Wilson, Freddy Sanchez and Adam LaRoche had two RBIs apiece in the inning.

"I'm disappointed," Bergmann said. "I didn't have a feel for any one of my pitches. Each one of my breaking pitches let me down at one time or the other when I really needed it. It's just command of my pitches that I really need for next time."

In that second inning, it looked like the Pirates could have been held to just two runs. With two outs, Pittsburgh had the bases loaded, when Sanchez hit a popup behind home plate. Catcher Brian Schneider went near the stands in foul territory and the ball went into his glove before popping out as Schneider nearly flew into the stands. The floodgates opened after that.

"I was over the edge and I reached out as far as I could," Schneider said. "The foul ball was not coming straight down. [It was] coming down at an angle and I reached over as far as I could and made the best effort. Could I have made the catch? Yeah. Is it a routine play? No. It's one of those plays where if I catch it, it's a great catch. If I don't, I don't think anyone expects you to make it. Obviously, I gave it all I [had]."

The Nationals scored their last run in the sixth inning, when Ronnie Belliard hit a home run off Gorzelanny, who pitched 7 1/3 innings and gave up two runs on five hits.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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