Nationals fall; slide reaches seven

Nationals fall; slide reaches seven

WASHINGTON -- There was good and bad news on Thursday night at Nationals Park. Right-hander Collin Balester pitched deep enough into the game to save the bullpen, but the Nationals lost the series finale to the Mets, 9-3.

The visitors swept the three-game series and outscored Washington, 25-6. The Nationals are on a seven-game losing streak and the loss dropped their record to 44-78.

Balester lasted six innings and gave up five runs on four hits. He struck out three batters and walked five. Balester was sharp the first three innings, but he had problems during his final three. During those last three innings, Balester had a tough time throwing strikes and keeping the ball down. It was a case of Mets batters making adjustments with Balester the second time around.

The Mets went to work on Balester in the fourth inning, when Carlos Delgado grounded out to shortstop Ronnie Belliard, scoring Argenis Reyes on the play. Carlos Beltran followed with a sacrifice fly to drive in David Wright.

Brian Schneider hit a two-run homer in the fifth, while Delgado went yard in the next inning.

"I'm able to get through those first three innings without a problem, but ran into a little bit of trouble when I face them a couple of times through," Balester said. "The pitch selection is not there for me right now. I'm leaving the ball up.

"When I'm down in the zone, it's no problem for me. I got to learn and I have to keep working in the bullpen to keep the ball down every single time. It's killing me, keeping the ball up."

The Nats' offense sputtered most of the game against left-hander Oliver Perez. It wasn't until the seventh inning that Washington scored, tacking three runs in the bottom of the inning off the Mets' starter. Pete Orr hit a two-run triple, while Emilio Bonifacio drove in a run with a bunt hit to make it a 5-3 game.

"I think we had the momentum for a little bit, but they did a good job of shutting us down the next inning -- it was a tough night all around," Orr said.

The Mets were able to get the momentum back in the top of the ninth inning by scoring four runs off closer Joel Hanrahan. The biggest blow for the Nationals came with two outs, when Damion Easley and Jose Reyes scored on a throwing error by Bonifacio at second base.

Things were looking so promising for Washington during the beginning of August. It went 6-1 to start the month and Bonifacio was given credit for turning things around for the team.

In the past seven games, however, the Nationals' hitters have been overmatched by pitchers such as CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets, and the starting pitching, which was a team strength for most of the season, has been struggling.

Only John Lannan has had a true quality start during this rough period, and he didn't have his best stuff.

"The last week or so, we went from playing really well to going back to where we were in San Francisco and Los Angeles," Orr said. "You can't explain it. We just have to keep working hard. We know what we have to do to win, so we keep working at that."

Asked how morale in the clubhouse has been during this current losing streak, Orr said, "It's tough. Injuries are not an excuse, but they play a role. The morale is the same as it was earlier. There is definitely a vision of what we want to do. We saw for that week how we can be successful, so we are trying to get back to that."

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