WASHINGTON - On a damp day and night two miles east of the U.S. Capitol, the Diamondbacks on Saturday hit bottom. Unless, of course, there is no bottom. The D-Backs’ struggling relief pitchers blew the club’s biggest lead of the season in losing the front end of a day-night twin bill, 7-6, in 11 innings.
With this in mind, manager Bob Melvin left in Livan Hernandez after the starter began fading in the eighth inning of the nightcap. So the D-Backs lost another lead and fell, 4-3.
“These are pretty tough,” Melvin said. “We’re doing just enough to lose . . . in every facet.” In the day game, the D-Backs (64-71) had perhaps their last, best chance to get back in the middle of the wildcard race.
They had a 6-1 lead in the eighth. The Nationals had two out and nobody on base.
And the D-Backs still couldn’t put it away.
The game may have marked the departure of Jorge Julio as the team’s closer. Julio blew his season’s fourth save when he gave up a gametying two-run homer to Alfonso Soriano in the ninth inning.
In the latest twist in the ever-churning position, Jose Valverde may get the chance to close, Melvin indicated.
That’s where he started the season.
“We’ll evaluate it,” he said, pointing out that Julio is “getting behind, walking the leadoff guy. That’s never the way to go.”
The D-Backs had carefully built an impressive 6-1 lead through seven innings behind the crafty old pro Miguel Batista.
Then Melvin went to his bullpen. And before the relievers could even get five outs, the lead was gone.
With two out and nobody on, Tony Pena gave up two singles, then a three-run homer by Ryan Church.
In the ninth, Julio started the inning by walking Bernie Castro. After striking out Robert Fick, Julio gave up the game-tying homer to left by Soriano. Then Julio sagged further, walking Felipe Lopez.
Melvin then took the ball from Julio.
The question is whether he’ll ever give it back in a meaningful situation.
The smart money says it won’t be as the closer after a downcast Melvin said, “That’s a game you have to put away. . . . Four outs to go. We have to find a way to get it done.
“It can be demoralizing when you lose games like that.”
Batista, he said, “was beautiful. . . . He should have won the game.”
Julio said that for some reason, “I couldn’t grip the ball.” But he said he felt he made a good pitch, an inside fastball, on Soriano’s homer.
The Nationals won the game in the 11th by barely putting the ball in play.
Brandon Lyon (2-4) opened the inning by walking Castro. After a sacrifice bunt, Lyon intentionally walked Soriano.
Then Lyon walked Lopez and Ryan Zimmerman to force in the winning run.
The loss spoiled a great game by center fielder Chris Young. Not only did he make a leaping catch, he went 3-for-5 with five RBIs.
In the nightcap, Hernandez (10-12) mastered his old team for seven innings as the D-Backs took a 3-1 lead.
Then, again in a fateful eighth inning, the Nationals seemed to figure him out.
With one out, Zimmerman belted a homer to left. Then Nick Johnson singled and Austin Kearns delighted the D.C. fans by blasting a homer to right-center to give the Nationals a decisive 4-3 lead.
Melvin said Hernandez “felt great,” and he didn’t want to use Pena and Julio twice in the same day.
“I felt he was the best guy at the time with what we had available,” the manager said. Hernandez said he “felt good,” but that his inside fastballs to Zimmerman and Kearns sailed toward the middle.
Luis Gonzalez hit a two-run blast, his 14th homer, to give the D-Backs a 3-0 lead in the third. But the D-Backs never scored again.