WASHINGTON, D.C. -- For the second night in a row, Nationals Park was the backdrop for an MLB story with national interest.
On April 21, the narrative was the first regular-season meeting of young outfield stars Bryce Harper of the Nationals and Mike Trout of the Angels. Los Angeles came from behind to win, 4-2, with four unearned runs in the eighth inning.
One night later, the storyline had the Nationals as unwitting role players, as slugger Albert Pujols of the Angels hit two home runs against right-handed starter Taylor Jordan to give him 500 for his career. Pujols hit a three-run shot down the left-field line in the first, and then crushed a two-run screamer to center field in the fifth, bringing teammates out of the dugout to congratulate him at home plate.
Lost in the national headlines is the fact the Nationals managed three hits during each game. Washington has now lost eight of its last 12 games. Washington made two more errors April 22, and the team's pitching rotation could change, as Jordan has an ERA of 6.23.
"I left a pitch up," Jordan said. "First inning, he hit a changeup. It wasn't a bad pitch. I don't think it was really up in the zone. The 500th home run, that pitch was supposed to be low and away, and I guess I tried too hard to get it there. We did three consecutive fastballs there, so I was really trying to get that ball where I wanted it and left it over the middle of the plate."
What was it like to be part of history?
"Yeah, he's a great hitter," said Jordan, who turned 25 in January. "He's been around for a long time. He's got 500 home runs in the big leagues. That's something in its own."
Washington manager Matt Williams said Jordan's pitches were up in the strike zone too much.
"You make mistakes to somebody like Albert, you're going to pay for it," Williams said. "He's been doing that for a long, long time. First pitch he hit over the fence was a hanging off-speed pitch, which he's paid to do.
"The second time, he got a ball up again. I think for Taylor, it's just been balls up in the strike zone. That's an example tonight. Albert's a professional hitter, like we talked about yesterday. He's one of the best of his generation. That's what he does; he makes pitchers pay for balls that are left up. He did that today."
The Nationals do have other options in the rotation if Jordan continues to struggle. Veteran right-hander Doug Fister, who is on the disabled list with a lat strain, continues to make progress in Florida and may be about two weeks away. Former starter Ross Detwiler is pitching out of the bullpen, while former Vanderbilt star Taylor Hill, 25, has been throwing well at Triple-A Syracuse with a record of 2-0 and an ERA of 2.00 during his first three starts.
Would the Nats consider another option in the rotation?
"We don't know," Williams said. "We've got to see where Doug's at, certainly. That's important for us. We won't know that for some time. Would we ever consider it? Of course we would consider it, but not because of tonight. The interesting part about it is, after that first inning, with the exception of the other homer to Pujols, [Jordan] pitched pretty well. So you find that silver lining -- young pitcher and a veteran hitter -- that happens sometimes. But to make that drastic change right now, I don't think we would do [that]."
Pujols now leads the American League with eight home runs. He has 24 homers during 67 career games against the Nationals, going back to his time in the National League with the St. Louis Cardinals. He also hit his 400th career homer during a game played at Nationals Park.
"I am just glad it happened tonight," Pujols told media members after the game. "I was thinking about [500 homers], because you guys brought it up. I knew this year it was going to happen, either tonight, tomorrow or two months from now."
Pujols became the 26th player in big league history to reach 500 homers and the first one in five years, after Gary Sheffield in 2009.
Harper and Trout combined to go 1-for-9 April 22 with five strikeouts. Harper struck out to end the game, and he has two hits in his last 23 at bats.