Jeff Baker miscue costly as Nationals handle Cubs

WASHINGTON -- It's almost supernatural the way things have been happening when the Washington Nationals are on the field.

How else to explain the all-time wild throw made by Chicago Cubs second baseman Jeff Baker with the bases loaded in the first inning? Or the ball that mysteriously popped out of first baseman Alex Cora's glove on the play that could have ended the game in the ninth? Or Danny Espinosa's gutsy decision to bare-hand a groundball and make the throw that finally did finish off Washington's 3-2 win Tuesday night?

"I got my Ouija board out," said Davey Johnson, who been getting his money's worth in drama in his first nine games as Washington's manager. "And usually it works pretty good -- and it's a little shaky right now. I need to get a little more seasoning. Cora missed the throw and I said `Holy Moly."

However it happened, the Nationals are back over the .500 mark thanks to their sudden knack for winning one-run games. Each of Washington's last nine wins has come by one run or in extra innings, and the club is 12-3 in one-run games since June 1.

"I love one-run wins, believe me," Johnson said. "But every decision you make in one-run ballgames is kind of critical. Once in a while I'd like to have a laugher."

Most of the laughter Tuesday came at the expense of Baker, who was in the starting lineup to give All-Star Starlin Castro a day off.

Baker was only 30 feet or so from second when he fielded a routine grounder with the bases loaded and none out, but his throw sailed more than 10 feet wide of the bag and into left field. Instead of allowing one run on a double play, the Cubs were in a 2-0 hole that became 3-0 on Wilson Ramos' infield single.

"When I pivoted, my back foot slipped out and my lower back started to spasm up a little bit," said Baker, who left in the third inning with back spasms. "That's frustrating. ... It should have been a double play. I didn't make the play."

The three-run first was just enough of a cushion for a Nationals cadre of pitchers that included Ross Detwiler (1-0), recalled from Triple-A before the game because Washington needed an extra starter due to a recent doubleheader. Detwiler, making his season debut, took a shutout into the sixth and was removed after giving up Aramis Ramirez's two-run homer.

Detwiler allowed four hits over 5 1/3 innings with one strikeout and no walks. The Cubs were stymied the rest of the way by Todd Coffey, Sean Burnett, Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen (21st save) as the Nationals improved to 4-5 under Johnson.

Also as unpredictable as a Ouija board are the hot-and-cold performances from Washington's high-priced slugger Jayson Werth.

Werth finally drew some cheers with a daring steal of third before scoring on a wild pitch to win Monday's game in the 10th inning, but on Tuesday he heard boos again when he struck out twice -- including once on a meager check swing -- and grounded into a double play with two on in the fifth inning. The Nationals left 10 runners on base -- six by Werth.

"He's not really worried as far as I can see," Johnson said. "And I've had a lot of conversations with him. When he comes out, he's going to come out big."

Chicago's pitcher was also making his 2011 debut. Ramon Ortiz (0-1) had the rough first inning -- exacerbated by Baker's miscue -- but he settled down and didn't allow another run. He went six innings, gave up seven hits and struck out seven in his first major league start since May 19, 2010, for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Ortiz's contract was purchased from Triple-A before the game, the latest move in a season-long pitching carousel for the Cubs. Ortiz became the 10th Chicago starter this season, his services needed because Carlos Zambrano is on the disabled list with a sore back. Four of Chicago's five starters from the opening day rotation have been on the DL this season.

"We've got to figure out ways to win," Chicago outfielder Marlon Byrd said. "We can't think back and go, 'Oh, we didn't win because of this.' We have to figure out ways to win, and we're not."

Game notes
Ortiz became the Cubs' second fill-in starter in two days. Casey Coleman started Monday because Ryan Dempster was recovering from a stiff lower back. ... Chicago also placed reliever Marcos Mateo on the 15-day disabled list with a sore elbow. Mateo was flown to Chicago and had an MRI on Tuesday, but the team doesn't expect to have the results for another day or two. ... The Cubs flip-flopped a move they made Monday, recalling reliever Chris Carpenter from Iowa and optioning Coleman to the Triple-A club. ... First lady Michelle Obama was cheered as she took part in a pregame ceremony honoring children of military families. She watched from the infield as a boy from a military family threw the ceremonial first pitch to Nationals 2B Danny Espinosa. Mrs. Obama then gave Espinosa a hug. ... The security measures for the first lady caused Johnson to arrive later than he planned at the ballpark. Johnson wanted to get to his office early for some "homework time" as he learns more about his roster. He estimates that he's "about 80 percent there" learning the players' various statistical tendencies. ... Washington 1B Michael Morse (bruised forearm) didn't start for the third straight game; he grounded out as a pinch hitter in the sixth. Nix, who played first base for the first time since high school when he moved there during Monday's game, got the start at the position Tuesday. ... Nationals 3B Ryan Zimmerman returned after missing one game with a sore abdomen. ... To make room for Detwiler, the Nationals designated RHP Collin Balester for assignment.