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Lack of offense looms over Nationals

Lack of offense looms over Nationals

SAN DIEGO -- It's true that Nationals relievers Charlie Manning and Joel Hanrahan gave up the home runs that helped the Padres win Tuesday's game, 4-2, at PETCO Park. But it's the offense that continues to hamper Washington.

The offense got off to a good start in the first inning, when Aaron Boone hit a two-run homer off left-hander Randy Wolf. However, it went downhill after that, as the Nationals collected only four hits the rest of the way.

"It's a little frustrating. You just have to keep plugging away," Boone said. "We have to keep working. Guys are having better at-bats. We'll come out and get them tomorrow."

Washington had opportunities to score more runs. In the second inning, the Nationals had runners on first and second and one out. Starting pitcher Shawn Hill sacrificed the runners to second and third, but Felipe Lopez struck out to end the inning.

In the next inning, Cristian Guzman led off with a double, but he was left stranded on third base. For the game, Washington went 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position.

"Pattern or no pattern, what matters is the amount of runs that we score at the end of the game. We are not scoring enough," manager Manny Acta said. "We started early and swung the bats well. We scored two runs, but after that, we couldn't do anything. We had our chances. We had a guy on third with less than two outs, and we couldn't get a hit."

Acta believes the lack of offense puts added pressure on the entire pitching staff.

"It's not easy to win 2-1," the manager said. "You pretty much have to pitch lights-out and play outstanding defense and do everything perfect to win 2-1. It's not only the bullpen, it's the starters."

Hill acknowledged that the offense is struggling, but he pointed out that major contributors, such as Ryan Zimmerman, Nick Johnson and Austin Kearns, are out with injuries.

"It's going to come around," Hill said. "We've had pitching that has struggled at times, and the offense has picked it up. It happened last year. So it's one of those cycles. It's a long season. Hopefully once we start getting going and we continue to pitch, obviously, you will see a big turnaround."

Hill missed a start because of right elbow and forearm problems, but on Monday the elbow injury appeared to be a thing of the past, and he felt little pain in the forearm. Hill lasted five innings, giving up two runs on five hits. He struggled in the first three innings, throwing 82 pitches.

Acta and pitching coach Randy St. Clair wanted to make sure Hill was OK physically after throwing so many pitches. Hill convinced them he was good to go.

Hill had a quick inning in the fourth, but his pitch count was at 91.

Acta was ready to take Hill out of the game, however, the pitcher convinced the skipper he could go the extra mile for the team. The fifth ended up being Hill's only 1-2-3 inning.

"Physically, I felt much better than I did the last start, but I was completely out of synch delivery-wise," Hill said. "Maybe I can contribute it to the 10 days off."

Hill's toughest inning occurred in the third. After getting two outs, he walked the next three hitters -- Adrian Gonzalez, Kevin Kouzmanoff and Khalil Greene -- before facing Michael Barrett.

"I fell off the face of the earth with my control. I've never done that before that badly," Hill said. "I couldn't tell you why, other than the lack of feel."

On a 2-2 pitch, Hill threw what looked to be a strike, but home-plate umpire Ron Kulpa called it a ball. Barrett then hit a two-run single to tie the score. Hill said he understood why Kulpa didn't make the call.

"I see the other point of view. I just walked the bases loaded, and I'm not putting the ball where I want to," Hill said. "If you don't hit your spot right on, you are not going to get the call. He was generally tight today, but that's fine. If you hit your spots consistently, then you will start getting those calls."

The game was tied at 2 when San Diego took the lead. Manning was able to get two quick outs, but Gonzalez took his 0-1 pitch over the left-field wall.

Hanrahan entered the game after the home run, and Kouzmanoff hit the first pitch he saw from the right-hander for a homer to left.

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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