Apr 4, 2014, 4:13 PM EDT
GAME IN A NUTSHELL: With fanfare, somber event remembrances and award presentations, the Nationals took the field for their home opener amid plenty of buzz. Then baseball took center stage, and a tense, nip-and-tuck ballgame between two talented division rivals broke out.
Jordan Zimmermann, still battling the stomach virus that prevented him from starting yesterday in New York, gutted his way through five innings of 1-run ball, allowing only Evan Gattis’ solo homer. Right-hander David Hale one-upped his counterpart, tossing five scoreless innings — with an assist from MLB’s replay crew in New York, which overturned Ian Desmond’s apparent inside-the-park home run — before turning things over to the Braves’ dominant bullpen.
The Nationals did scrape out a sixth-inning run off Gus Schlosser, with Ryan Zimmerman’s sac fly scoring Anthony Rendon to knot the game 1-1. But Tyler Clippard issued a leadoff walk in the top of the eighth and paid the price for it, with Jason Heyward eventually scoring on Chris Johnson’s sac fly to put Atlanta back on top 2-1.
The Nationals had a golden opportunity to rally in the eighth off David Carpenter, but Adam LaRoche, Zimmerman and Bryce Harper struck out in succession with the tying man in scoring position. That forced them to take one last shot against Craig Kimbrel in the ninth, and that hardly — if ever — ends well. The All-Star closer wrapped up a tense victory for the Braves, spoiling the Nationals’ home opener in front of a rowdy crowd.
HITTING LOWLIGHT: You can’t say the Nationals didn’t have their chances at the plate. Or on the bases. They ran themselves into three outs, with Harper caught stealing second, Desmond caught stealing third and new third base coach Bobby Henley making a poor decision to send LaRoche home on a ball to left field in the bottom of the fourth. But their biggest missed opportunity came in the bottom of the eighth, when Carpenter put two on with nobody out and the heart of the lineup up. LaRoche got ahead 2-0, then struck out on a high fastball. Zimmerman struck out on three pitches. And Harper, despite battling to a 3-2 count, was caught looking at a fastball on the inside corner, killing the Nats’ best chance to tie or take the lead.
PITCHING HIGHLIGHT: Taking the mound at something less than 100 percent, Zimmermann figured to be something less than his usual self. That he wound up allowing just one run while striking out nine is testament to his pitching talent and approach. Mixing in some sharp sliders and curveballs to go along with his mid-90s fastball, the right-hander was effective throughout. But he still wasn’t quite the full Jordan Zimmermann. He left a fat fastball up in the zone to Gattis in the top of the fifth and labored throughout the remainder of that frame. And with his pitch count at 81 — and his spot in the lineup due up third — that was it for him on this day. Five innings of one-run ball while under the weather certainly was satisfactory enough for the Nationals.
RULES EXPLANATION: Desmond’s fifth-inning drive into the left-field corner brought the sellout crowd of 42,834 to its feet, with the Nats shortstop racing all the way around the bases for what appeared to be an inside-the-park home run. The Braves, though, immediately argued, with Justin Upton claiming he couldn’t retrieve the ball from the gap underneath the fence. After a lengthy conference, the umpires agreed to go to New York for the official review, which came back with an overturned call, granting Desmond only two bases instead of four. The official explanation: Ground-rule doubles are reviewable under the new system, under Rule 7.05(f). Whether Upton actually could have picked the ball up, however, remains up for debate.
KEY STAT: Aaron Barrett has now faced six batters in his MLB career. He has retired all six, four by strikeout.
UP NEXT: With the hubbub of their home opener now over, the Nationals get back to the daily grind. Stephen Strasburg makes his second start of the season, seeking his first win, with Braves ace Julio Teheran also back on the mound. First pitch Saturday night is at 7:05 p.m.
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As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...
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