Apr 5, 2014, 3:36 PM EDT
There’s no such thing as a must-win game on April 5. There simply isn’t. Now, having made that disclaimer, the Nationals sure would like to win tonight’s game against the Braves. Not because it would have any dramatic effect on the NL East standings less than one week into the season. But because another loss to Atlanta would leave the Nats needing to win tomorrow to avoid a sweep and perhaps would leave people with this team beginning to doubt its ability to beat its chief division rival.
In that regard, the Nationals are happy to have Stephen Strasburg on the mound today making his second start of the young season. Strasburg got off to a shaky start in New York on Monday but then made some key adjustments and wound up pitching six strong innings, striking out 10. He’s been less-than-perfect against Atlanta in the past, going 3-4 with a 3.68 ERA in 12 career starts, making the Braves the only team he’s faced more than two times and has a losing record against.
Fellow Opening Day starter Julio Teheran is back on the mound for Atlanta, and he’ll face his old pal Bryce Harper in the first inning. Harper is back up in the 2-spot tonight, with Matt Williams hoping that will spark the young outfielder to get his swing going.
Lots of updates to come, so please check back…
ATLANTA BRAVES at WASHINGTON NATIONALS
Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN, MLB.tv
Radio: 106.7 FM, XM 89, MLB.com
Weather: Partly cloudy, 56 degrees, Wind 14 mph LF to RF
CF Denard Span
LF Bryce Harper
RF Jayson Werth
1B Adam LaRoche
3B Ryan Zimmerman
SS Ian Desmond
2B Anthony Rendon
C Jose Lobaton
RHP Stephen Strasburg
RF Jason Heyward
CF B.J. Upton
1B Freddie Freeman
3B Chris Johnson
LF Justin Upton
2B Dan Uggla
C Ryan Doumit
SS Andrelton Simmons
RHP Julio Teheran
HP Jim Joyce (cc)
1B Doug Eddings
2B Marvin Hudson
3B Cory Blaser
6:55 p.m. — We just had our first national anthem of the season sung by the one and only D.C. Washington. This is now officially a good night at the ballpark, no matter what transpires from this point on.
7:06 p.m. — And we are underway on a windy, 51-degree Saturday night in the District. Good crowd still finding their way to their seats as Stephen Strasburg fires ball one outside to Jason Heyward.
7:13 p.m. — Well, whatever velocity questions there were about Strasburg on Monday in New York appear to be a thing of the past. He opened the evening by striking out Heyward on a 90 mph fastball, then got B.J. Upton flailing at a 90 mph slider. Yes, a 90 mph slider. Mercy. Strasburg did issue a two-out walk to Freddie Freeman and then a bloop single to Chris Johnson, but he finished strong by getting Justin Upton (who received an, um, warm welcome from the crowd) to ground into a forceout, ending a scoreless top of the first.
7:28 p.m. — Wow, quite an eventful bottom of the first. The good: Denard Span drew a 4-pitch walk to get things started. The bad: Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth each struck out, with Harper inexplicably bunting on an 0-1 count. The really good: Adam LaRoche destroyed a 2-2 pitch from Julio Teheran into the third deck down the right field line. Yes, the THIRD deck. That’s Adam Dunn country up there, a spot very few guys have reached in the 6-plus years since this ballpark opened. That deserves a Sweet Fancy Moses! It’s 2-0 Nats after one.
7:45 p.m. — Nothing doing for either side in the second inning, though the Nats did make Teheran work, with Strasburg even battling during a 2-out at-bat before striking out looking. We head to the third, still 2-0 Nats.
8:00 p.m. — In a very short amount of time, Strasburg has really developed some serious confidence in his new slider. He just used it again to strike out Chris Johnson in a key situation, with two on and two out in the third. He now has four strikeouts in three innings, with the Nats still ahead 2-0. By the way, I did some research on ESPN’s Hit Tracker site, which plots every single home run hit in every ballpark, and as best as I can tell, only one other player has ever reached the third deck at Nationals Park since it opened in 2008. That would be Adam Dunn, who hit this bomb on April 23, 2010. Looks like that one bounced off the facade of the upper deck, so LaRoche’s appears to be the only one that actually landed in the third deck.
8:17 p.m. — Uh-oh, Zimmerman just tried to make a routine throw to first, one that would’ve gotten Strasburg out of the top of the fourth, and wound up throwing a lollipop that sailed past a lunging LaRoche. Zim’s second error of the season brought home one run. And when Teheran blooped an RBI single to right moments later, another unearned run that was a direct result of Zim’s throw. This is a thing again, folks, and it’s not pretty. 2-2 game in the middle of the fourth.
8:50 p.m. — And things got much worse in the top of the fifth. Not for Zimmerman, who wasn’t involved at all. But for Strasburg, who was beaten around by the Braves and wound up getting the hook after only 4 1/3 innings. Matt Williams didn’t have a choice, the way things were going. Strasburg allowed six of eight batters to reach after the Zimmerman error, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say he melted down as a result of the fielding gaffe. He had only one clean inning the entire night, and the Braves kind of nickel-and-dimed him in the fifth. A poor decision by Harper to throw to the plate when he had little chance also contributed and led to another unearned run. So Strasburg only is charged with three of the six runs he allowed tonight. Whatever the case, it’s now a 6-2 Braves lead in the middle of the fifth.
9:06 p.m. — Just when it looked like the Nats might have something cooking in the bottom of the fifth, they caught a bad break. With runners on the corners and one out, Harper smoked a line drive to center, the best he has struck a ball in five games so far. Unfortunately, it was directly at B.J. Upton, who then fired a strike to the plate to nail a tagging Lobaton and end the inning. So it remains 6-2 after five, and there’s more news as the top of the sixth begins. Ross Detwiler is in to pitch. Danny Espinosa is at second base, and Anthony Rendon has shifted to third. So Ryan Zimmerman is out of the game, and it’s not part of a double-switch. That would seem to suggest either he’s injured or Matt Williams simply believed he needed to be removed. Either way, it’s not good.
9:24 p.m. — A laborious top of the sixth for Detwiler, who loaded the bases on two singles and a walk. But the lefty got out of the jam unscathed. Barely. It remains 6-2, and the Nats are running out of time to mount a rally against Teheran before they have to take their hacks at the Braves’ bullpen.
9:38 p.m. — The Nationals can’t say they haven’t had chances to get back into this game. They’ve put the leadoff man on base in five of six innings so far. And they put the first two men on in each of the last two innings. Yet they haven’t scored since LaRoche’s towering homer in the first. They’re now 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position after Espinosa lined out hard to left, Desmond popped out to first and Rendon struck out swinging with two on in the sixth. Still 6-2 Atlanta.
10:00 p.m. — Not much to add at this point. We’ve moved to the eighth. It’s still 6-2 Braves. Jerry Blevins has a cool choice of walk-in songs: “Sympathy for the Devil” by the Rolling Stones. Sorry, that’s all I got right now.
10:15 p.m. — Another strikeout for Harper, who is 0-for-4 tonight. For the season, he’s now 3-for-21 with one walk, 10 strikeouts, zero extra-base hits and zero RBI. I would not be surprised at all if he gets tomorrow off vs. Braves lefty Alex Wood.
10:29 p.m. — Last chance for the Nats, who still trail 6-2 heading to the bottom of the ninth.
10:42 p.m. — And that’s the ballgame. Nats lose 6-2. They’ve dropped two straight to the Braves, 15 of 21 dating back to last season. Taylor Jordan vs. Alex Wood tomorrow afternoon.
NL EAST STANDINGS
NL PLAYOFFS STANDINGS
FRI: Nats at Marlins, 7:10 p.m.
SAT: Nats at Marlins, 7:10 p.m.
SUN: Nats at Marlins, 1:10 p.m.
TUE: Mets at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
WED: Mets at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
THU: Mets at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
Full season schedule
ON THE RADIO
As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2014 schedule (subject to change)...
MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 1:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.
*All times Eastern. You can also listen to the station on 94.3 FM, 92.7 FM and online at ESPN980.com. Click here for past audio clips.
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