4/7 Nationals 7, Cubs 4

Dale Sveum wasn’t in panic mode after Saturday’s 7-4 loss to the Nationals, even if it did look like an instant replay of Thursday’s 2-1 loss. For the second straight game, Kerry Wood and Carlos Marmol couldn’t hold a lead. Wood served up a solo homer to Danny Espinosa with two outs in the eighth, and pinch-hitter Chad Tracy followed with a go-ahead two-run single off Marmol to spark a five-run inning and lift the Nationals. It’s not a good start when a team has more blown saves than wins.

“I think they’ll be fine,” said Sveum of his two late inning relievers.”They’ve been in these situations before. It’s not a panic situation.”

The Nationals trailed, 4-2, entering the eighth. Wood, who walked in the game-tying run on Thursday, threw five straight strikes to retire the first two batters. But Espinosa battled him in a 10-pitch at-bat before he connected on his homer. Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche each singled to chase Wood (0-1) from the game. Marmol, who gave up the game-winning run on Thursday in the ninth, entered to face Werth and walked him to load the bases. Tracy, part of a much stronger Nationals bench, singled to go ahead, 5-4. Roger Bernadina doubled and Wilson Ramos walked before Marmol was pulled. Another run scored on an infield single.

“You’ve got to give a little credit to the hitting,” Sveum said. “Espinosa had one heck of an at-bat. The other day, Woody wasn’t throwing strikes and today he was throwing strikes and got two quick outs and Espinosa put a heck of an at-bat together and hit a home run the opposite way, hit the heck out of it. These guys have been here before. It’s just a couple bad innings so far, that’s all that’s happened this season.”

Sveum is still looking for that first win, too. Everything is magnified because it’s the start of the season — new manager, new front office, new attitude.

“The thing that quiets all that is a win and coming back and showing what you’re made out of and the character you’re made out of and doing it right the next day because they’ll get the opportunity to do it tomorrow, too,” Sveum said.

Wood wasn’t talking post-game. Marmol did.

“I made a couple mistakes and I paid for it,” he said.

The Nationals have been tough.

“You want that,” Jeff Baker said. “If you can get out there and play well against those teams and do some damage, you get the confidence going and the city behind you. If you go out there and you’re playing some teams that had a down year last year and you beat them, then everybody says you’re supposed to beat them. As players, you want to go out and play against tough teams. We’ll go out there and take our chances and roll with it.”

Extra bases:

* Starlin Castro singled in the first and has reached base safely in 42 straight games, dating to Aug. 15, 2011. Only two Cubs have reached base in more games: Riggs Stephenson (44) and Jerome Walton (43). Castro also stole two bases in the first, the first time in his career he has done that.

* The last time the Cubs started 0-2 was in 2010.

* The Cubs successfully executed a hit-and-run in the first and have been more aggressive on the bases.

“You can say Spring Training is Spring Training and doesn’t count and it doesn’t matter, but you see the tone that was set there,” Baker said of the action on the bases. “It’s been stressed from day one to the last day of Spring Training — we were stealing bases on the last day when we were playing the Brewers Double-A team. As a player you’re excited, because you’re not going to go out there and drop anchor and sit at first or second base and wait for a bloop or a homer. It’s fun, it’s definitely fun and it’s the way baseball is meant to be played.”

* Joe Mather was 1-for-3 with a walk and a RBI in his first start. It was his first career start at third base.

* When Shawn Camp entered the game Saturday, he became the 1,899th player to appear in at least one regular season game for the Cubs since 1876. Who will be No. 1,900? Candidates include Lendy Castillo, Paul Maholm and Chris Volstad.

* The Cubs selected the contract of reliever Rodrigo Lopez on Saturday and infielder Luis Valbuena cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A Iowa to make room on the 25-man roster. With the addition of Lopez, the Cubs now have 12 pitchers on the staff.

* Bryan LaHair, sidelined for one week with tightness in his back, pinch-hit on Saturday and was expected to start Sunday in the series finale against the Nationals. LaHair got treatment on Friday, an off day, and has been able to hit off a batting tee. He last played in a Cactus League game on March 29.

* Jeff Samardzija faces Jordan Zimmerman in the series finale on Sunday at Wrigley Field, 1:20 p.m. CT.

– Carrie Muskat

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