WASHINGTON — Davey Johnson's latest take on the Washington Nationals offense: "It's putting me in my loony bin."
At least it was a new answer from the manager. Most of the other ones of have been recycled beyond meaning.
The Nationals were nearly shut out for the second straight game by one of the worst teams in baseball, falling 4-1 Wednesday night to the Milwaukee Brewers. All the life gained from scoring 23 combined runs in games Sunday and Monday has been sapped away, and once again the preseason NL East favorites are back at .500.
"It looks like we're getting good at-bats," Johnson said. "We're just not getting it done. I don't have any answers."
Anthony Rendon, whose seventh-inning homer was the lone Nationals run, didn't have much of an answer, either. Asked to explain the team's hitting woes, he answered: "Baseball."
Bryce Harper said even less, leaving the clubhouse as reporters entered following the game. He went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts and dropped a ball in left field for the second consecutive game. He is 1 for 12 since his return from a knee injury that put him on the disabled list, and the one hit was an electrifying first-inning homer in the first game that helped spur Monday's 10-5 win.
To be fair, Harper made solid contact twice on Wednesday, but center fielder Carlos Gomez chased the first one down on the warning track and had to sprint and stretch to snag the second one in left-center.
Nevertheless, the Nationals have reverted to their collective season-long slump at the plate. Washington's .237 batting average is fourth-worst in the majors.
"On the outside looking in, you see the loss," shortstop Ian Desmond said. "But we played a good ballgame."
They certainly played an aerial game, one of fly outs, lineouts and popups. Seventeen times, the Nationals got out on batted balls that didn't hit the ground, making the job easier for Brewers starter Kyle Lohse.
"For me, it was a result of their approach at the plate," Lohse said. "If they're going to keep trying to put the ball in the air, I'm going to keep trying to get it as low as I can. It's kind of hard to hit those low fastballs, low sliders, up out of the park."
Lohse (4-6) allowed one run and four hits over eight innings and struck out a season-high seven. He was pitching on two days' rest after his last start, Sunday at Pittsburgh, was cut short at 1 2-3 innings because of a 2-hour, 20-minute rain delay.
Lohse threw 71 of his 103 pitches for strikes. Some were hit hard, but there was almost always someone there to make the catch. Gomez had an especially busy time, making eight putouts.
Ross Detwiler (2-7), yet another Nationals pitcher longing for run support, was charged with four runs and eight hits in six innings, although two runs were unearned because of Harper's error leading off the sixth. In Detwiler's seven losses, the Nationals have scored a combined three runs while he's been in the game.
The Brewers scored a pair in the fifth on a single by Norichika Aoki with the infield in. In the sixth, Harper dropped a line drive off the bat of Aramis Ramirez. The error proved costly when Logan Schafer drove a two-run triple into right-center with two out.
Harper, converted from catcher after the Nationals drafted him No. 1 overall in 2010, also misplayed a fly ball on the warning track in Milwaukee's four-run eighth inning in Tuesday's 4-0 win. That play was ruled a hit, although Harper said he simply dropped the ball.
The Nationals did bring the tying run to the plate in the ninth, but Rendon ended the game with — what else? — a fly ball to Gomez in deep center.
NOTES: The game's most embarrassing gaffe was committed by Brewers 2B Rickie Weeks, who thought there were two outs in the eighth inning when he ran almost all the way from first to third on a flyout to deep center. He started to retreat when he realized there was only one out. Ramirez was on third, and he compounded the blunder by not hustling home to complete a sacrifice fly before Weeks was doubled off. Had Ramirez crossed the plate in time, the run would have counted. ... Detwiler made the start despite feeling stiffness in his lower back after his previous outing. He is 0-3 since returning from the disabled list last month following a back strain. ... The game started at 6:05 p.m., an hour earlier than usual, because the teams have an 11:05 a.m. start on July 4. ... Nationals RHP Dan Haren, on the disabled list with a sore right shoulder, threw a simulated game and appears set to return to the rotation July 9. ... Washington C Wilson Ramos (left hamstring) will return from the DL and start Thursday, barring a setback following his final rehab game Wednesday night.