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Nationals complete sweep against White Sox

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(Alex Brandon)
White Sox starter Dylan Axelrod pitches Thursday against the Nationals in the first inning Thursday in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON – Manager Robin Ventura and the rest of the White Sox hardly enjoyed their visit to the nation's capital.

Second baseman Gordon Beckham was lost for about six weeks because of a broken bone in his left wrist that needs surgery.

Pitching coach Don Cooper went to the hospital with an intestinal illness that will keep him away from the club for the rest of its three-city road trip.

Oh, right, and then there was this: The  Sox were swept in a three-game series against the Washington Nationals, including a 7-4 loss in the finale Thursday night.

"It's tough. You've got to be able to withstand that and keep going," Ventura said. "It's still early. You find out what you're made of and you keep going the next day. There's no break."

Here's the dilemma Ventura faced in the fourth inning of a one-run game Thursday:

Pitch to No. 3 hitter Bryce Harper with a runner on base or walk Harper and pitch instead to cleanup man Ryan Zimmerman with two aboard.

Ventura chose to have right-hander Dylan Axelrod intentionally walk the lefty-swinging Harper. That brought up the right-handed Zimmerman, who delivered a two-run double that broke the game open.

"You're rolling the dice either way," Ventura said. "You just take your chance."

Nationals manager Davey Johnson raised an eyebrow and grinned when asked what he thought about that sequence.

"I'm glad I don't have to make those decisions," he said.

Zimmerman's take?

"I wouldn't pitch a righty against Bryce right now, either," he said.

Ventura's basic, two-word explanation: "Harper's hot."

That's certainly true, and Harper himself wasn't surprised about the walk there, saying, "First base open. Hitting righties pretty good."

Actually, it doesn't seem to matter who is on the mound at the moment.

The reigning NL Rookie of the Year is hitting .417 with four homers, eight RBIs and a .778 slugging percentage. His run-scoring single in the eighth gave the 20-year-old Harper at least two hits in seven of nine games so far.

"Obviously, they're showing a lot of respect for Bryce, 10 days into the season," Nationals starter Dan Haren (1-0) said after getting the win despite allowing 10 hits in five innings. "I mean, he's special. Our lineup's really good, though. There's no soft spots."

With the score tied at 3 in the fourth, Haren helped himself by doubling off Axelrod (0-1) and eventually scoring on a wild pitch with two outs. Chicago then put Harper on base on purpose, but the move didn't work: Cleanup hitter Zimmerman lined a double to right on Axelrod's 103rd – and final – pitch of the evening.

"I just didn't want to give in. We got to 3-2 and I went with the changeup. I hadn't thrown a changeup to a right-hander all game," Axelrod said, "and it seemed like a good idea at the time."

That put Washington ahead 6-3, and relievers Ryan Mattheus, Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano made it hold up. Soriano pitched the ninth for his fifth save in six chances, and third in three days.

"Well, I was tempted to go another route," Johnson acknowledged afterward, "but he hadn't cried 'Uncle' for me yet."

Swirling wind carried napkins and other debris from the stands onto the grass, pushed batted balls away from the fences, and turned some otherwise routine plays into adventures for fielders. Following a couple of days in the 80s, the temperature dipped into the 50s.

After trailing 3-1, the Sox pulled even in the fourth. With a man on, Axelrod popped up a bunt that first baseman Adam LaRoche couldn't quite reach, and the ball bounced by for an infield single. Alejandro De Aza and Jeff Keppinger hit RBI singles – ending the Sox's 0-for-10 stretch with runners in scoring position over two games.

But other than Adam Dunn's RBI double off Mattheus in the sixth, the Sox couldn't get more runners home.

"We left a few guys on early, swung it good in the middle," Ventura said, "and nothing really happened after that."

NOTES: Sox LHP Jose Quintana starts against Indians RHP Justin Masterson on Friday. ... Washington Wizards point guard John Wall, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft, threw out the ceremonial first pitch, acquitting himself much better than the other time he had the honor. Last time, he spiked his attempt straight into the ground, prompting his "catcher" that day, Nationals reliever Drew Storen, to joke Wednesday: "Give me a sky hook." With LHP Gio Gonzalez receiving this time, Wall put the ball in the glove with a soft lob.

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