Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Scott Olsen was yanked after failing to retire a batter in the third.
One night, they'll get a dominant performance from their starting pitcher. The next night, they'll fall into a 10-0 hole thanks to wretched pitching.
One night, they'll come through with a string of clutch hits. The next, they'll fail to jump on an opposing starter who looks ripe for a beating.
The end result of all that inconsistency is a perfectly average 7-7 record. Which is fine in the grand scheme of things. But over the long haul, consistent performances day in and day out are required from winning teams. And right now, the Nats don't fall into that category.
Here's your head-scratching stat of the day: Through 14 games, every Nationals starter has either lasted seven or more innings or failed to get through six. Think about that for a moment. What's typically the average number of innings thrown in a start? Six. Yet this team hasn't seen a single pitching line yet that starts with a six.
"I'd say it's odd, yeah," manager Jim Riggleman said after tonight's 10-4 loss to the Rockies. "Usually it wouldn't be as drastic as it has been. You get something a little more in between. We've had some outstanding performances, and we've had some ones that our pitchers are feeling like 'I don't know what's wrong with me.'"
Scott Olsen certainly fell into the latter category tonight. Stellar only five days ago in Philadelphia, the left-hander was wretched this time out. He did retire the side in the first and five of the first six Colorado batters he faced. But then he failed to retire eight of the next nine Rockies before Riggleman unceremoniously yanked him four batters into the third inning.
After a spring full of questions about his lack of velocity, Olsen threw the ball with enough mustard tonight. He just couldn't throw it where he wanted.
A second-inning home run by Troy Tulowitzki came on a fastball right down the heart of the strike zone. Ditto for Dexter Fowler's leadoff triple in the third.
"The arm's fine. There's no pain," Olsen said. "It's just a matter of executing. The other day, we did a good job of that. We were down in the zone. We threw offspeed pitches for strikes when we had to. Today, we were just six inches off."
Tyler Walker was no better in relief of Olsen, serving up a three-run double to opposing pitcher Jorge de la Rosa on a hanging split-finger fastball, then a two-run homer to Ryan Spilborghs on his very next pitch.
So, for the second time in three days, the Nationals found themselves trailing 10-0 by the third inning. You know how hard it is to do that in the big leagues?
"It's frustrating," Walker said. "You come in. You want to get the job done. I want to pick up Scott in that situation and hopefully give us a chance to win the ballgame. But I didn't execute in that first inning."
This would all be cause for panic on South Capitol Street if not for the fact Olsen's wretched start tonight and Jason Marquis' equally repulsive start Sunday were sandwiched around Livan Hernandez's four-hit shutout and Craig Stammen's eight-inning masterpiece.
The Nationals have gotten some standing-ovation-worthy performances this season. And they've gotten some gag-inducing performances.
Now, if they could only get some run-of-the-mill, average performances, we might have a better idea whether this 7-7 club is for real, is a fraud or is just destined to leave us wondering all season long.