Bullpen coughs up two leads in loss

Bullpen coughs up two leads in loss

PHOENIX -- Micah Owings went nearly a year without a loss coming up through the Minors last year.

Now it must feel like it's been a year since his last win.

Owings pitched one of his best games of the season Sunday at Chase Field but fell victim to a bullpen meltdown, the second time that's happened to Owings in three starts, in the D-backs' 7-6 loss to the Nationals. Owings departed with the same 5-1 lead as he did on Aug. 1 against San Diego, but was left with another no-decision.

Owings has gone nine starts since June 20 without a victory, after going from May 23 of last year to April 11 without a loss. After that defeat, he did not lose again until the start of this winless streak on June 25, which at the time was his second loss in over 13 months.

Owings did not want to blame the bullpen for this recent string of bad luck. The relievers twice turned short outings from Owings into Arizona wins with stellar relief in his two previous outings before the Padres start.

"They've picked me up so many times this year," Owings said. "That's not anything I'm worried about. Nine times out of 10 we're going to win that game. I've just got to keep focusing on what I can do to help the team, things I can control."

On Sunday, Owings could control the way he shut down Washington's offense, starting with 4 2/3 perfect innings on a day that all his pitches worked. Owings finished his 6 1/3 innings by giving up one run on four hits while striking out eight.

He only gave up one hit through the first six innings before loading the bases in the seventh, but Tony Pena cleaned up that mess to leave Owings' stat line similar to his first career start, when he gave up one hit over five scoreless innings to beat Washington in April.

"I felt real good today," Owings said. "I felt like all three pitches I could throw whenever I wanted. Obviously, that's when it's feeling good."

Manager Bob Melvin said Owings exhibited some of the best command he's had all season, before running out of gas a bit as he neared the end of his outing. He looked nothing like the pitcher who got shelled to the tune of a 9.52 ERA in five July starts.

Instead, the script was flipped on Arizona as the Nationals mounted a pair of comebacks to beat the D-backs for the first time this season in seven tries.

Jose Valverde (1-4) blew his sixth save of the year when he gave up a solo homer just inside the left-field foul pole to Jesus Flores to start the ninth. Robert Fick followed with a triple before scoring the eventual winning run on Felipe Lopez's sacrifice fly.

Chad Cordero earned his 26th save with a scoreless ninth.

That came after Arizona took a 5-1 lead into the eighth, when the 'pen surrendered four runs, the last two coming on Ryan Church's two-run homer off Doug Slaten.

"We've relied on them all year," said outfielder Eric Byrnes. "They've come through for us all year, and we can't expect them not to give up a run from here on out for the rest of the year, so it's one of those games -- we'd like to say we're going to win the rest of them, but it happens."

Said Melvin: "Our bullpen doesn't do that very often. We're not going to go through a whole season where everybody's perfect."

After Washington's first comeback in the top of the eighth, Arizona answered in the bottom half of that inning. Rookies Justin Upton and Mark Reynolds opened the inning with singles against Jon Rauch (8-2). Stephen Drew put Arizona on top with a go-ahead sacrifice fly after snapping an 0-for-18 skid with a double two at-bats earlier.

"It's another one of those demoralizing, you-lose-the-lead type things, and then to come back again and scrap out a run, we're feeling pretty good and just couldn't hold it," Melvin said.

The D-backs staked Owings to a 5-0 lead after three innings that looked like it would hold up the way he was cruising. In a three-run third, Byrnes hit a solo shot and Reynolds hit a two-run homer, his first long ball in 57 at-bats, against Nationals starter Mike Bacsik, who combined with Owings to go 21-0 at Triple-A Tucson last year.

The bullpen's rare hiccup prevented Arizona's third series sweep out of its past seven series wins, but the D-backs have followed up tough losses by rolling off another winning streak time after time during their 17-4 run.

"It's weird because we're so used to winning lately, and we come back here and the music's not playing and everybody's kind of down," Reynolds said. "But we're young guys. We're not going to harp on this too long, forget about it on the plane ride and have a good road trip."

Michael Schwartz is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.