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Nationals’ impatience at the plate is contagious in 6-2 loss to Dodgers

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LOS ANGELES — The first inning of Tuesday’s game between the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers provided the perfect opportunity for Nationals hitters not named CJ Abrams or Jesse Winker to make their mark. But the result foreshadowed what was to come in the Nationals’ 6-2 loss at Dodger Stadium.

Before Lane Thomas stepped to the plate for his first at-bat, the Nationals had missed a golden opportunity. Abrams led off the game with a single. And when Winker followed with a double, Abrams could have scored from first. But as Abrams raced around third toward home plate, his helmet flew off. He slowed down to reach behind his back and catch it, which proved costly when he was thrown out at home.

Still, Thomas singled to put runners on the corners with one out for cleanup hitter Joey Gallo. But Gallo popped out on the first pitch and then Luis García Jr. lined out sharply to center to end a fruitless inning for the Nationals (7-10), who have scored the fewest runs (one) in the opening frame of any major league team this season.

“The whole objective was to kind of beat up and try to get to that starter,” Manager Dave Martinez said. “We hit some balls really hard in the first inning. And then we started chasing a little bit. That’s the big thing with us.”

The Dodgers seized an early 3-0 lead against Nationals left-hander Patrick Corbin, who allowed five runs on nine hits and four walks in 6⅓ innings. Seven of the first 10 Dodgers reached base, yet the Nationals’ deficit could have been much worse. Teoscar Hernandez hit into a double play with the bases loaded and no one out in the first, but a run scored. An Austin Barnes RBI single and an RBI double by Mookie Betts, who finished with four hits off Corbin, extended the Dodgers’ advantage to three in the second.

The Dodgers threw four relievers in a designated bullpen game. Left-hander Ryan Yarbrough entered in the third and Jacob Young led off with an infield single. He scored when Winker blasted a two-run homer off Yarbrough to cut Washington’s deficit to 3-2.

“The challenge is every guy they threw tonight is a little bit different,” Winker said. “They pitched really well tonight and they got big outs and they kind of stopped us from rallying. That happens.”

But Winker’s homer proved to be a turning point for an additional reason: It was the Nationals’ final hit until there were two outs in the ninth.

Abrams and Winker combined to finish 3 for 6 with two extra base hits, two RBI and a walk. The rest of the Nationals’ order finished 2 for 26 with five strikeouts. They chased out of the zone and didn’t work long at-bats — only 15 of the Dodgers’ 128 pitches thrown came on three-ball counts.

“We swung at a lot of first pitch breaking balls, which was uncharacteristic,” Martinez said. “I think we should’ve been a little bit more patient.”

Tuesday’s performance reinforced the Nationals’ need for stronger production from their secondary players. García, who was fighting for the second base job this spring, has been a bright spot. But Joey Meneses hasn’t played in three of the past four games after going through an early season slump. Gallo, who stuck out three times Tuesday, is 3 for 29 on this road trip with 18 strikeouts. Eddie Rosario’s average dropped to .122 after going 0 for 4.

The Dodgers led 5-2 heading into the eighth inning when Abrams and Winker gave the Nationals a brief glimmer of hope. Abrams walked, then Winker was hit by a pitch. Thomas could have tied the game with one swing.

Instead, he grounded out softly to third. As he ran past the first base bag, Thomas, who is typically reserved, grabbed his helmet off his head and slammed it on the outfield grass.

Note: Catcher Keibert Ruiz was on the field before Tuesday’s game playing catch and doing drills in the bullpen with catching and strategy coach Henry Blanco. Ruiz was placed on the 10-day injured list Monday, retroactive to Apr. 12, with the flu; Martinez said Ruiz has lost some weight while dealing with the illness.

Martinez hopes Ruiz can participate in more baseball activities such as batting practice in the coming days and even floated the possibility of sending Ruiz on a minor league rehab assignment to get back into game shape.

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