The Nationals can’t find a strike zone and can’t keep up with the Dodgers

The Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers played with the lead on Friday night, with neither team wanting to take control through the first five innings. Then the Nationals bullpen pushed the game firmly into the Dodgers’ hands.

The Dodgers turned a one-run deficit into a three-run lead in the sixth inning thanks to three hits and three walks and held on for an 8-5 victory at Nationals Park. Seven Nationals pitchers pitched on Friday night, and together they walked nine batters on an incredible 204 total pitches. The first five combined for eight batters. The only pitcher not to strike out was Andrés Machado, who entered in the seventh and hit a double play before a rain delay stopped play for about 90 minutes. Amos Willingham covered the final 2⅓ innings after the delay and walked one more time.

“It’s contagious,” manager Dave Martinez said. “One guy comes in and does it, and then it seems like everyone after him takes a guy or two. Against a team like that, you give them free bases like that. You will pay the price. This simply can’t happen.”

MacKenzie Gore started after missing a lap on the bereavement list. And behind him were CJ Abrams at shortstop and Luis García at second base, a double-play combination that would form the team’s middle infield duo this season and for the foreseeable future. But as Abrams improved, García’s performance declined after an encouraging start. He was sent off on August 3 as the team hoped that he would improve his preparation before matches in order to achieve better results during matches. A little over a month later, the Nationals gave him another chance. Garcia finished 0-for-3 on Friday.

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“I can’t say that I was initially very happy with the decision, rather I think I didn’t understand it,” García said before Friday’s game. “But . . . I just started thinking about it and realized that part of the game is to help me so I can improve in certain aspects of my game. And I saw it that way. And I went there to work, and it’s a learning experience. And I feel like I’ve accomplished that, but I’m back up here and just trying to do what I can to finish strong.”

“He’s still a big part of our future, but I want him to understand that he has to do the right things every day,” said manager Dave Martinez, who plans to use García against right-handers. “Even when things are going badly in terms of batting, he has to play good defense. He needs to be hired. He has to play second base every day like we ask him to. He understands that. He’s worked really hard to get better and hopefully the hard work will pay off up here.”

Gore started the game by accompanying Chris Taylor, a hint of what was to come. Gore singled off Taylor to lead off the game at first, but allowed a two-run home run to JD Martinez later in the frame. But former Dodgers standout Keibert Ruiz hit a three-run home run in the bottom of the inning to give the Nationals the lead. Ruiz has four home runs against Los Angeles this year.

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The Nationals’ offense was able to keep up with the Dodgers, who were without MVP candidate Mookie Betts. According to Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, Betts is dealing with a bone bruise, but scans have come back clear. He is not expected to play this weekend.

Even without Betts, Max Muncy and Kiké Hernandez hit solo home runs in the fourth to give Los Angeles a 4-3 lead again. Gore had a blister on his hand and didn’t return after the fourth. Abrams hit a two-run home run in the fifth to give the Nationals a 5-4 lead.

But Washington couldn’t avoid the unforced errors. Gore, Mason Thompson and Jordan Weems each walked two. Robert Garcia and Jose A. Ferrer each issued a free pass. Walks kept coming, and against the division-leading Dodgers they came back to haunt the Nationals.

“We have to stay one step ahead of the hitters,” Ruiz said. “I think they were really good in the second half, the bullpen, the starters. It was just a tough game. Not every game will be the same but we have to come back tomorrow and play well. … They have a really good lineup, they fight, and we have to do the same.”

Remarks: Lane Thomas missed his third straight game and hasn’t played since Sunday as he battles a back injury he suffered in Toronto. Martinez watched Thomas throw punches in the cage, and Thomas ran around the field during batting practice as the team’s trainers kept a close eye on him. …

Ruiz’s replacement, Riley Adams, was placed on the 10-day injured list with a fractured left hamate to make room for García. Adams fouled a ball on Wednesday and winced before walking away mid-stroke. Adams, 27, will undergo hamate removal surgery on Monday, capping a promising season for the team’s backup catcher, who has made great strides in his second full season in the majors. Adams finished the year with a .273 batting average and an .807 OPS in 143 at-bats. A year ago, he hit .176 in 142 at-bats. …

Martinez said it will be “difficult” for Victor Robles to return to the majors this year. Robles hasn’t played since late June. He tried to bounce back from a back injury he suffered in May, but ended up back on the injured list after playing in just five games between IL stints. Robles has since rehabilitated and remains in the clubhouse, and Martinez said he has no plans to pressure him to return. The Nationals can’t find a strike zone and can’t keep up with the Dodgers

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