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WASHINGTON — The Detroit Tigers hit the ball hard for two days against the Nationals with not much to show for it.
Thursday’s final out was no different as Prince Fielder flied to the warning track in center with the tying run on base to end the Tigers’ 5-4 loss to the Nationals.
Ryan Mattheus, Drew Storen, and Rafael Soriano combined for shutout relief after Dan Haren nearly squandered a four-run lead to complete a two-game sweep of the AL champions.
“Unfortunately in baseball there’s no way you can guarantee a hit,” Fielder said. “All you can do is control your swings and control what pitches you swing at. I think we did that well today, just didn’t get the results we wanted.”
Fielder very nearly gave himself, and the Tigers, a huge present on his 29th birthday. After Miguel Cabrera singled with two outs off Washington closer Rafael Soriano, Fielder sent a 1-0 pitch to deep center, but Denard Span made the catch on the warning track.
“When he first hit it I thought, ‘Maybe,’ but I could tell the way Span was going after it that it was going to stay in the park,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “Prince (1 for 5) hit the ball good all day long, didn’t get much to show for it.”
Fielder added: “I put a good swing on it, just got under it a little bit.”
Detroit had entered the series with nine wins in 10 games only to get swept for the first time since losing three games at the Los Angeles Angels from April 19-21.
Omar Infante had three hits for the Tigers, who outhit Washington 12-9. Ten of them were singles, however, and Detroit left nine runners on base.
“We got ourselves in a hole early on,” Leyland said. “We had quite a ways to come back. We almost did it.
“I thought we actually hit the ball pretty decent both games. We couldn’t get that one tweener with a couple of guys on.”
Detroit starter Doug Fister (4-1) gave up five runs, eight hits, and four walks in three innings, taking his first loss since Game 2 of the World Series at San Francisco last October.
“It was just lack of executing,” Fister said. “I didn’t keep the ball down. I got a lot of the plate a lot of the time and they made me pay for it.”
He was removed for a pinch hitter in the fourth. It was Fister’s shortest career start other than an outing at Cleveland in August, 2011, when he was taken out after two innings because of a lengthy rain delay.
“He wasn’t sharp. You could see that,” Leyland said. “He wasn’t brutal by any means, but he just wasn’t sharp. His curveball wasn’t good like it normally is.”
Ryan Zimmerman, in a 2-for-14 slide coming in, had three hits for Washington, and Adam LaRoche added a pair.
Bryce Harper hit an RBI groundout in the first following Denard Span’s leadoff double, and Harper came home from second when LaRoche singled and center fielder Austin Jackson let the ball get past him for an error. Ian Desmond followed with a run-scoring single for a 3-1 Washington lead.
Fister (4-1) had an RBI single in the second off Haren, but the Nationals made it 5-1 in the bottom half on consecutive run-scoring singles by Zimmerman and LaRoche.
Haren (3-3) allowed four runs and nine hits in six innings.
After falling behind 5-1 after two innings, the Tigers pulled to within 5-4 on Matt Tuiasosopo’s pinch-hit three-run homer in the sixth. Leyland sent Tuiasosopo, a right-hander, up to pinch-hit against the right-handed Haren.
“Right-handers have a little have better numbers off Haren over his career, and we were looking for a quick strike, and we got it,” Leyland said.
Washington’s three relievers had identical lines, each giving up a hit and striking out a batter in an inning. Soriano converted his 12th save in 13 chances.
NOTES: Tuiasosopo’s home run was the first by a Tiger pinch hitter since Ryan Rayburn at the Chicago White Sox on Sept. 14, 2011. . Fister’s RBI was the first by a Tigers pitcher since Rick Porcello had two on June 12, 2009.The game was a makeup of Tuesday night’s rainout. Rain fell during the second and third innings Thursday but play was not halted. ... Leyland has managed at every current big league ballpark other than Marlins Park, which opened in 2012. ... Ross Detwiler (1-3, 2.50) will face Cubs RHP Jeff Samardzija (1-4, 3.09) today in Washington. ... Max Scherzer (4-0, 3.43) starts at home today, opposed by RHP Cleveland’s Corey Kluber (2-1, 3.06).