Nationals rally, but find themselves treading water again

Todd Dybas
NBC Sports Washington
A rare series win is followed by a narrow series loss to drop the Nationals eight games under .500 again.

Nationals rally, but find themselves treading water again

A rare series win is followed by a narrow series loss to drop the Nationals eight games under .500 again.

Nationals rally, but find themselves treading water again originally appeared on nbcsportswashington.com

WASHINGTON -- The Washington Nationals lost to the Chicago Cubs, 6-5, Sunday to drop their record to 19-27. Here are five observations from the game…

1. A word about Anthony Rendon first.

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His three-run homer dragged the Nationals to within 6-4 on Sunday night. He also walked and a soft liner off his bat was caught by a leaping Addison Russell at shortstop. He was stellar in the field. After an initial rusty patch when returning from the injured list, he is back to his normal self and one of the most dangerous hitters in the National League. He could finally be going to his first All-Star Game.

Second, a word about Howie Kendrick.

He homered -- again -- his seventh already this season. Things around the Nationals' poor start are not great. They would be severely amplified if Kendrick wasn't walking around with a .317 batting average and an almost 1.000 OPS.

Their work was not enough Sunday. The Cubs took a 4-0 lead early, then hung on late, spoiling the Nationals chance for a rare second consecutive series win.

2. "Little things" kicked in again Sunday.

A fourth-inning passed ball by Kurt Suzuki moved a runner to third with one out. Kyle Schwarber's sacrifice fly drove him in.

Juan Soto's late break from second with two outs in the sixth inning led to third base coach Bob Henley giving a rare stop sign at third base. Albert Almora Jr.'s throw for center field went soaring over bot the catcher and pitcher at home plate. If Soto broke early or Henley took his usual chance, another run would have scored.

The Nationals' overall defense was cleaner Sunday. Rendon made multiple quality defensive plays, Brian Dozier also two slick stops. But, two smaller incidents flipped two runs in what became a 6-4 game.

3. Jeremy Hellickson is going in reverse.

He lasted just three innings Sunday, and was lucky to make it there. Hellickson opened the game by loading the bases via walks. Despite him laying the groundwork for a devastating first inning, he allowed just a run.

Runners made it to second and third to start the second inning, but just one scored. A leadoff homer for Anthony Rizzo bumped the Cubs' lead to 3-0 in the third. Hellickson wiggled away from a double in the inning to finish his evening in arrears, 3-0.

He threw 64 pitches, just 30 strikes.

The outing was the second time this season Hellickson lasted just three innings in a start. He gave up five earned runs the last time. Four of his previous five outings delivered a Game Score of 34 or lower (50 is the starting point with potential to go up -- or down). A non-analytical measure of those outings is to simply call them uncompetitive.

The trouble for Washington is it has no clear option to replace Hellickson and his 6.23 ERA in the rotation, if it decided that was the best course of action going forward. Joe Ross could swap spots wit Hellickson, flipping Ross into the rotation and Hellickson into the bullpen. Kyle McGowin, called up from Triple-A Fresno on Friday, relieved Hellickson on Sunday. He's not big-league ready.

Austin Voth is the only minor-league starter on the 40-man roster but not on the 25-man roster. Voth has a 3.89 ERA in Fresno this season.

4. Trevor Rosenthal continues to creep toward a return.

He threw a bullpen session in Nationals Park on Sunday after a day off Saturday. Rosenthal pitched in back-to-back games Thursday and Friday for the Double-A Harrisburg Senators.

Rosenthal is going to Harrisburg to throw another inning Monday, then be re-evaluated. He had another rough outing Friday for the Senators: ⅓ of an inning, 21 pitches, 11 strikes, a walk and hit allowed.

Nationals manager Davey Martinez said the misses were up and down in the zone. Rosenthal was previously pulling pitches to his left.

"I watched video," Martinez said. "His mechanics are pretty good right now."

Is he close to returning?

"I think he's really close," Martinez said. "We'll see how this next outing goes for him."

5. More progress for the injured.

Matt Adams (left shoulder strain) took 40 swings Sunday, felt good afterward, and is nearing a pre-game stint on the field, possibly Monday with the team in New York.

Ryan Zimmerman (plantar fasciitis) continues to swing and play defense. He was expected to run Sunday, the final step in his rehabilitation. He could be ready "very soon" according to Martinez.

Tony Sipp (oblique) took Sunday off after pitching an inning Saturday for Single-A Potomac.

Outfielder Andrew Stevenson (back spasms) was sent back to Triple-A Fresno on Sunday. He will begin playing games with the Grizzlies on Monday.

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