WASHINGTON -- The season's midway point has come and gone, but after another abysmal offensive performance on Wednesday night, the Nationals are back to square one.
With a 4-1 loss to the Brewers on a muggy evening at Nationals Park, the preseason World Series favorites returned to .500 for the 18th time this season. They scored one run or fewer for the 23rd time. Anthony Rendon, who mashed his second homer of the season in the seventh inning, was the only player to advance past second base.
"Well," manager Davey Johnson said, "I'm glad we're coming back early in the morning to get this taste out of our mouth."
For weeks, Johnson said the return of Bryce Harper from the disabled list would jolt the offense, and in the 20-year-old's first at-bat on Monday, he hit a solo homer. In the 11 at-bats since, Harper has yet to record another hit and he has struck out four times, including twice on Wednesday.
And the rest of the order wasn't much better.
Washington followed its ninth shutout of the season on Tuesday with only five hits.
"It's putting me in the looney bin," Johnson said. "I mean, it looks like we're giving good at-bats, we're just not getting it done. I don't really have any answers."
Ross Detwiler pitched six decent innings, allowing four runs (two earned) on eight hits and a walk. In the first, he retired the Brewers in order on 12 pitches and didn't let a ball leave the infield. In the second, he used three breaking balls to strike out the side.
Otherwise, the Nationals looked like a team stuck in neutral. Brewers right-hander Kyle Lohse effectively quieted the Washington lineup, striking out seven and allowing only four hits in eight innings.
"Every pitcher should be like [Lohse]," Brewers third baseman Aramis Ramirez said. "He works fast, throws strikes. Some guys don't realize that you give the hitter less time to think when you do that. If you look at other guys like that, they're all successful."
Lohse and Detwiler were tangled in a scoreless game until the fifth, when Sean Halton smoked a leadoff double to left-center field. Logan Schafer bunted down the third-base line and Ryan Zimmerman couldn't make a barehanded play. Lohse advanced both runners before Norichika Aoki sliced a single up the middle to put the Brewers up 2-0.
It was all downhill for Detwiler from there.
Ramirez hit a liner to left field to lead off the sixth, and Harper knelt to catch it. But for the second time in as many days, he couldn't make an easy play, as he misjudged the ball to allow Ramirez to reach base. The drop proved costly, as Jonathan Lucroy followed with a single and Schafer hit a two-run triple two batters later to make it 4-0.
"I thought there were just the two at-bats there that, when it was time to make a pitch, I just didn't," Detwiler said. "I kind of threw the ball right down the middle on both of them, and they did what they needed to do to score the runs."
With two outs in the seventh, Rendon sent a hanging curveball into the visitors' bullpen to inject some life into the crowd of 28,920. But the rest of the order couldn't follow suit. Washington has now scored one run or fewer in more games than any team except the Marlins.
"Obviously you want the offense to click and score 20 runs a game and get 15 hits," shortstop Ian Desmond said, "but it doesn't work out like that all the time."
Milwaukee should have tacked on another run in the eighth. With Ramirez on third and Rickie Weeks on first with one out, Halton hit a towering fly ball to center. Weeks absentmindedly rounded second base and was doubled up at first to end the inning. If Ramirez had hustled home after tagging up, the run would have counted.
"I thought that [on] a double play, automatically the run didn't count," Ramirez said. "I had no idea. I don't think anybody knew."
That mistake kept the door ajar for a Nationals comeback. They entered the bottom of the ninth with the heart of their lineup due up. Zimmerman singled and Desmond drew a two-out walk, but Rendon's attempt at a game-tying homer fell well short of the center-field wall.
Once again, the Nationals couldn't capitalize. Their offense stayed quiet, their season still stuck in neutral.