WASHINGTON -- While Braves starting pitcher Shelby Miller has been essentially defenseless against the lack of offensive support he has received this season, the right-hander at least had an opportunity to defend against the multiple defensive miscues that plagued him as a promising performance quickly turned sour during Saturday night's 8-2 loss to the Nationals.
Still, despite what the box score might indicate, it was difficult to put much blame on Miller after his maddening winless streak was extended to 20 starts. The All-Star hurler was charged with a season-high seven earned runs in just 4 1/3 innings. But six of those runs were influenced by defensive lapses, a couple of which were not ruled errors.
"I want to be that guy to turn things around, and for it to happen like that, it's kind of rough to go out there and give up seven runs, especially with the rough streak we're having," Miller said. "That's just icing on the cake, as far as frustration."
On the way to taking their 11th straight loss and 18th in their past 19 games, the Braves gained some early encouragement from Miller, who breezed through the first two innings in perfect fashion. He might have actually retired each of the first nine batters he faced had a left corneal abrasion not influenced the fact that Cameron Maybin never saw Ian Desmond's pop fly that resulted in a leadoff double to begin the four-run third inning.
"I've been dealing with it for the past four days, and today it just got worse," said Maybin, who likely will miss the next couple games. "I apologized to Shelby and told him I never saw [Desmond's pop fly]."
Though he retired the next two batters he faced, Miller would have rather not seen what happened over the remainder of the inning. Desmond scored on a wild pitch that elicited a lackadaisical reaction from young catcher Christian Bethancourt, whose defensive woes have been mounting.
Miller then surrendered a Jayson Werth double and Anthony Rendon single before Bryce Harper ended a 10-pitch at-bat with a two-run homer. Harper fouled off three straight 1-2 pitches, but gained life on the third when third baseman Hector Olivera was unable to secure an over-the-shoulder catch along the stands in shallow left field.
Because of the miscues, Miller threw an additional 27 pitches during the four-run third inning. His pitch count was at 28 when he recorded the second out of the frame.
"It's a tough play for Olivera, but the way he is swinging it right now, you can't give Harper an extra swing right there," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "We didn't play very good defense behind [Miller]."
Miller's frustrations were extended in the fourth inning, when the Nationals tallied two runs on Wilson Ramos' 20-foot dribbler down the third-base line. Bethancourt whiffed on his attempt to tag an evasive Yunel Escobar, and then made an unnecessary and errant flip toward Miller at the plate that allowed Desmond to also score on the play.
After collecting his thoughts at the end of another frustrating night, Miller admitted he simply hopes at some point in his career to benefit from the mental toughness he has been forced to gain during this personal winless streak that dates back to May 23.
"It's always a learning experience," Miller said. "Each game, you take the positives and the negatives and you look back on film to see what you did right and wrong. That's what I'll do tomorrow, and get ready to work."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.