Tough start sinks Nationals

Tough start sinks Nationals

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals pitchers are in need of run support. The Nationals batters are looking for some relief from the pitchers. On Monday, neither side was able to make any headway in a 7-2 loss to the Cubs.

"We combined both negatives in the first inning," manager Manny Acta said. "You're trailing by two, then you get first and third with no outs and you're not able to score. It's just a bad combination right off the bat."

Right-hander Jason Simontacchi struggled to get out of the first inning, giving up a walk and hitting a batter. He was pitching on seven days' rest after experiencing a fatigued right arm last week, but he said his arm was feeling fine during this outing.

He continued to struggle, throwing 59 pitches in the first three innings and allowing five runs before leaving the game.

"I just didn't get the ball down," Simontacchi said. "I need to execute my pitches a lot better. Before I found anything, I was out of the game."

The bottom of the first wasn't any better. Cubs starter Ted Lilly walked the first two batters, and Nook Logan stole a base to create runners on the corners with no outs. Ryan Zimmerman and Dmitri Young both struck out, and Austin Kearns grounded out to end the inning.

"You want to capitalize, but he made some good pitches," Zimmerman said. "He was getting ahead, and once he's ahead, he can use all his pitches."

That was all the offense could produce for the next four innings, until Brian Schneider got the team's first hit with two outs in the fifth. He scored on an RBI double from Logan to put the team on the board.

One run didn't generate much excitement, though, because of what was happening in the top halves of the innings. Reliever Billy Traber needed 50 pitches to make it through the fourth and fifth, allowing two runs during that time.

Acta thinks pitching struggles may have been on the minds of the hitters during the game.

"That's human nature," the manager said. "Some of those guys are probably pressing a little bit instead of letting the game come to them."

Once the game was out of hand, both the offense and the pitchers settled into a groove.

Reliever Chris Schroder came out of the bullpen to throw three scoreless innings, allowing only one hit and striking out three while demonstrating impressive command of his fastball.

The offense picked up some hits, including a double from Zimmerman in the ninth. He scored, and the bases were loaded when the game ended with a double play. Because the Cubs held a six-run lead at the start of the inning, even that wasn't enough to get a tying run to the plate.

"They were able to get momentum, and we weren't able to catch them," Young said.

Things won't get easier during the rest of the week. The Nats will try to stop their version of Catch-22 on Tuesday with pitcher Tim Redding, who had a 5.32 ERA this season at Triple-A Columbus and is being called up for his first start of the year in Washington. On the other side, the offense will continue to watch former teammate Alfonso Soriano, who notched two hits for the Cubs in Monday's game and was on a hot streak in June.

Acta will stick with Simontacchi, and the manager didn't think arm problems were to blame for Monday's outing.

"The velocity was the same he's had all year," Acta said. "If you make too many mistakes over the plate, they'll make you pay."

Michael Phillips is an associate reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.