OK, so I am in the Santa Cruz scenario and I manage to meet the Jap bombardment mission after (woops) they have managed to complete their bombardment. I meet them with the Washington group at long range. Despite getting into contact they ALWAYS manage to break contact.
Fine, says I, both sides are about the same speeds, lets hurt them a bit with some airpower, then we'll catch 'em.
Nup, I manage to sink 3 of the ships and damage most of the others in this group but for the life of me, no matter that we meet in 5 more surface engagements, can I close and fire. Why?
Also, Washington has 16" cannons - why do they not have the range?
Think of this as both TGs sighting each other at long range, and the AI controlled formation deciding that it is an in inferior position, making a smoke screen and retiring behind it. Its very hard to force an unwilling naval opponent to stand and fight, ask the British who chased the Italians round the Med.
If you can catch your opponent at night, then you have a much better chance of forcing an engagement, but as has been pointed out, if you are playing the early war USN, you may not like the result.