Nationals shut down by D-backs

Nationals shut down by Diamondbacks

PHOENIX -- With the Nationals' offense sputtering all year, one knew that right-hander Shawn Hill had to be perfect on Sunday afternoon. But he wasn't. In fact, he had his worst outing of the season as the Nationals were blanked by the Diamondbacks, 5-0, at Chase Field.

It marked the second consecutive game in which Arizona shut out the Nationals. Right-hander Brandon Webb threw a shutout on Saturday evening.

Hill had one of his better days in terms of health. His right elbow wasn't bothering him and he had minimal pain in his right forearm, but he had a feeling that Sunday was not going to be his day.

During his bullpen session before the game, Hill noticed that his fastball was flat. No big deal, he thought. He figured it would be effective during the game.

Wrong.

The fastball remained missing in action as well as the rest of his pitching repertoire. He lasted four innings and gave up five runs on seven hits. It marked the first time that he didn't go at least five innings this season.

"I didn't do a good job keeping the team in the ballgame," said the straight-shooting Hill. "Everything [betrayed me]. The fastball was flat. I don't know if it was something mechanically. That's the first time it has been that bad. The changeup, I finally got to feel the last two pitches which was obviously way too late. The curveball, I was struggling to throw for strikes. Nothing worked at all.

"I knew something was not entirely right, but the velocity was fine. I was throwing strikes, just not with the off-speed stuff. Going into the game, I actually felt kind of loose and ready to go."

The Nationals found themselves quickly behind in the first inning. After Hill gave up consecutive singles to Stephen Drew and Chris Young, Orlando Hudson took a 1-1 curveball and hit a three-run home run.

"Three batters in, three runs down," Hill said. "That's my fault entirely. It's completely unacceptable. That three-run deficit just killed me. ... It's not a pitch I thought was a brutal pitch. It was up, but I'm not expecting Hudson to jump on it on a 1-1 count -- first inning. Again, I'm looking for a ground ball there. I didn't feel like I could beat him with my fastball. I just didn't have the sink."

In the next inning, Chris Snyder scored on a wild pitch while Chad Tracy homered an inning later.

While none of the Nationals pitchers will ever say it, it's no secret that they have to be perfect on the mound because the chances of getting run support this year are dismal. Sunday was another classic example of how poor Washington's offense has been.

The Nationals were no match for right-hander Dan Haren, who pitched seven shutout innings and gave up just four hits. Washington had runners in scoring position twice in the game, but both came with two outs.

"I'm embarrassed -- I know [Haren and Webb] are a good pitchers, but still," second baseman Felipe Lopez said.

Washington has a team batting average of .231. One could say the reason behind lethargic offense is because four of their starters -- Austin Kearns, Nick Johnson, Paul LoDuca and Ryan Zimmerman -- are either on the disabled list or have missed time because of injuries. But don't look for manager Manny Acta to come up with that excuse.

They still have players such as Wily Mo Pena, Lastings Milledge and Elijah Dukes who are in the lineup and expected to contribute. But between the three, only Milledge is hitting above .240.

"We are throwing big league hitters out there, especially young guys that we were counting on them because of their potential," Acta said. "It just hasn't happened. We'll keep throwing them out there. We'll keep working hard and being patient. That's how you build. You throw them out here and you see who is going to be part of the future here and who's not."

Hitting coach Lenny Harris is working hard with the players. Before hitting practice on the field, Harris is spotted daily in the cage with the hitters or looking at video with the players. But the hitters are not getting it done when it counts.

"We have to continue to stay positive and keep working as hard as we can," Harris said. "The morale is not getting down. It's like one guy is waiting for the next guy to do it. The guys have to keep working hard and keep believing in themselves. It's amazing how hard they work. They get here early and they are working and working everyday. Still, you have to go out there and produce. The results are not there, but they are working hard."

Harris reminded the media that the players on the roster are young and they have a lot to learn.

"They are going to make mistakes and they are getting an opportunity to learn in the big leagues," he said.

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