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The Nationals’ defense, dogged by ‘lazy’ mistakes, is struggling

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In the Nationals’ 4-2 loss to the New York Mets on Tuesday, an unwanted trend continued for Manager Dave Martinez: Washington’s defense faltered again. The Nationals logged two more errors, bringing the team’s total for the season to 25 — tied for the third most in the major leagues entering Wednesday’s games.

Shortstop Dee Strange-Gordon, filling in for an injured Alcides Escobar, fielded a routine groundball and threw it wide of first baseman Josh Bell to begin the seventh inning. That was followed by third baseman Maikel Franco’s throwing error in the ninth.

“Some of these errors that we’re making are just, brutally honest, kind of lazy mistakes, not moving their feet. It’s basically, they’re throwing errors,” Martinez said. “So we got to continue to talk to them, we got to continue to move our feet and finish the play. Half the play is catching the ball; the other half is throwing the ball. So we just got to finish the play all the way through. But I think these guys are more capable of doing that.”

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In 2018, Martinez’s first season as manager, the Nationals had the second-fewest errors in the majors with 64. Last season, they finished with 96.

“I keep preaching it, starting to sound like a broken record, but the walks and the errors are going to hurt us every time we go out there,” Martinez said. “We’re shooting ourselves in the foot every time we go out there, we got so many walks and so many errors. We just got to clean that up.”

Earlier this year, General Manager Mike Rizzo called defense “1B” to pitching, saying the two went hand in hand.

“I think that’s going to be a huge part of our game,” Rizzo said of pitching in early April. “We’re going to have to play good, solid baseball to win baseball games, and having a good sound defense and the defensive part of the game is in direct correlation to our pitching.”

So far, the team’s defense has been directly correlated to its success — the Nationals are 0-14 in games in which they commit at least one error. In eight of those games, they’ve made at least two.

Washington had just two errors in its first seven games, a strong start that unraveled when the Nationals recorded five errors over three games in Pittsburgh. In late April, they committed five errors during a three-game series against Miami. Since that Marlins series, Washington has committed 10 errors in the past 10 games.

Franco and Escobar, who won a Gold Glove in 2015, have a team-leading five errors apiece. The two also have run into each other on plays in which they have miscommunicated. Martinez said the mix-ups have been a result of Franco being a bit too aggressive and Escobar not speaking up enough.

Every infielder who has started a game this season has committed at least one error — except backup catcher Riley Adams. Center fielder Victor Robles has three.

“Look, these are veteran guys; we’re not talking about rookie guys,” Martinez said Tuesday. “These are guys that have done it. So I mean, we got to talk through it. We got to get them to move their feet. Every time the ball’s hit to them, they want to anticipate the ball being hit to them, one. And when the ball is hit to them, they got to finish the play.”

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