Defense, offense doom Nationals

Defense, offense doom Nats

MINNEAPOLIS -- Sloppy defense and lack of hitting played a big role in why the Nationals lost to the Twins, 11-2, at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome on Wednesday night.

The game was close during the first six innings. Right-hander Jason Bergmann started for the Nationals and he had his best outing since shutting out the Brewers for 5 1/3 innings on May 26. Against the Twins, he lasted six innings and gave up three runs, but only one was earned because of the Nationals' shaky defense.

"He pitched very well for us," manager Manny Acta said of Bergmann. "His fastball command wasn't all there, but he had good command of his breaking balls. We didn't play good defense behind him."

In the first inning, the Twins scored an unearned run. Carlos Gomez started the inning by bunting the ball toward third baseman Aaron Boone, who threw the ball away allowing Gomez to go to second base. Gomez ended up scoring on a sacrifice fly by Justin Morneau.

The Twins added two more runs in the second inning. With Jason Kubel on first, Brian Buscher singled to right field. Kubel went to third base on the play, but should have been thrown out. Right fielder Elijah Dukes threw a perfect strike to shortstop Cristian Guzman, who threw the ball perfectly to Boone at third base, but Boone dropped the ball and the Twins had runners on first and third.

"I just lost sight of it," Boone said. "The ball went into the runner and I just lost it. I still should have caught it. It hit my glove. It was a good throw."

Brendan Harris was the next hitter and he doubled over the head of center fielder Lastings Milledge. Kubel scored easily and Buscher was able to score because Milledge didn't field the ball cleanly. Milledge was charged with an error on the play.

"I couldn't grip the ball," Milledge said. "I thought we still had a play at home, but I let it get away. If I would have fielded it cleanly, the run would have never scored."

Defense had been one of the Nationals' strengths this season, but it has been missing in action since the Mariners series.

"We haven't been playing very good defense lately," Acta said. "I think we need to clean it up because that has been one of our strengths. Even in the series in Seattle, we swept them, but we didn't play the type of defense we are capable of. We need to catch a ball because -- obviously, you know about our offense."

The Nationals offense continues to sputter with no changes in sight. They also proved that the 18 runs they scored in the three-game sweep against Seattle was a fluke.

Washington made right-hander Kevin Slowey look like a Cy Young Award candidate, instead of a pitcher who had a 4.70 ERA entering the game. He lasted six innings and gave up one run on seven hits. The run was scored when Felipe Lopez hit a solo home run in the top of the fifth inning.

"He won. Doesn't matter how good he was, he won. I'm not going to sit here and say he was Cy Young," Milledge said of Slowey. "We just came off a three-game sweep. We are going to lose some games here. We lost a tough one yesterday and lost one today. We have to come out here tomorrow. We can't get down."

The Twins added a combined eight more runs in the last two innings. Reliever Saul Rivera gave up two runs, while Jesus Colome gave up five more and Brian Sanches gave up the last run of the game.

The 2008 Nationals are arguably struggling more than any Washington club since their arrival in 2005. The offense has been no where to be found and the bullpen has been disappointing. Boone knows what it's like to be on a winning team and he said the Nationals have to keep fighting and not accept losing.

"Shaking hands at the end of the day is what it's about," Boone said. "So it's frustrating. You have to push on, not give in, or not accept [losing] and try to work to get better. Hopefully, we'll continue to grow."

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