Apr 11, 2014, 3:56 PM EST
ATLANTA — Hello from Turner Field, where tonight the Nationals (owners of a best-in-baseball 7-2 record) open a big, three-game series with the Braves (who after losing two of three to the Mets sit at 5-4 overall). As has been noted, the Nats found themselves with the exact same record one year ago, facing the Braves in D.C., where they promptly were swept and never fully recovered.
Matt Williams could have saved Stephen Strasburg for tonight’s series opener but decided to keep his ace on normal rest and pitch yesterday against the Marlins. Obviously, that worked out just fine, but it means the less-experienced Tanner Roark gets the ball tonight against Atlanta ace Julio Teheran.
It appears Williams has begun to settle on something of a regular starting lineup, at least against right-handers. It includes Anthony Rendon batting second, Bryce Harper batting sixth and Ian Desmond batting seventh. We’ll see how that alignment performs tonight against the tough Teheran.
Updates to come, so please check back…
WASHINGTON NATIONALS at ATLANTA BRAVES
Where: Turner Field
Gametime: 7:35 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN, MLB.tv
Radio: 106.7 FM, XM 188, MLB.com
Weather: Clear, 71 degrees, Wind 6 mph out to CF
CF Denard Span
2B Anthony Rendon
RF Jayson Werth
1B Adam LaRoche
3B Ryan Zimmerman
LF Bryce Harper
SS Ian Desmond
C Jose Lobaton
RHP Tanner Roark
RF Jason Heyward
CF B.J. Upton
1B Freddie Freeman
3B Chris Johnson
LF Justin Upton
2B Dan Uggla
C Evan Gattis
SS Ramiro Pena
RHP Julio Teheran
HP Adrian Johnson
1B Larry Vanover (cc)
2B Angel Hernandez
3B Paul Nauert
6:45 p.m. — Couple of pregame notes before this gets started. First up, Doug Fister threw 35 pitches off a bullpen mound and reported no problems with his elbow or lat. Here’s my full update on him. Meanwhile, I asked Matt Williams about his decision to double-switch Ryan Zimmerman out of yesterday’s game, with the Nats holding a slim lead late, and whether that’s something he’s going to have to consider doing on a regular basis. Williams insisted it was entirely based on the fact his bullpen was taxed and he might have needed Jerry Blevins to pitch multiple innings. It wasn’t about improving his infield defense with a late lead. Nor will it be if it happens again. “I wouldn’t want to ever take him out of a game,” Williams said. “He’s too powerful and too good a player to do that. But yesterday we had no choice. Because we just didn’t have anybody else to go out for the following inning. I mean, we could’ve, but we didn’t want to. And the matchups that were coming up were good for Blev, so we thought that would be the spot to do it. But to be perfectly clear, I don’t want to take him out of a game.”
7:38 p.m. — And we’re underway on a gorgeous Friday night in Atlanta. Julio Teheran delivers strike one to Denard Span.
7:42 p.m. — And Teheran is through the top of the first on a mere seven pitches (six strikes). Span, Anthony Rendon and Jayson Werth all flied out. You wonder if they were just overaggressive there, or if the gameplan was to try and ambush Teheran early in the count. Either way, it didn’t work.
7:51 p.m. — A tough error called on Ian Desmond in the bottom of the first. Desmond had to go to his left to try and snatch up B.J. Upton’s hot smash, then would’ve had to make a great throw from deep in the hole at short. Fortunately, that E6 didn’t prove costly, because Jose Lobaton threw out Upton trying to steal second, with Desmond applying the high tag just before Upton slid in. Tanner Roark plunked Freddie Freeman with a 3-2 pitch but got out of the inning unscathed, having thrown 13 pitches. Scoreless after one.
7:58 p.m. — It appears the Nats absolutely came in with the plan of going right after first-pitch fastballs from Teheran. Their first five hitters tonight saw a total of nine pitches, with Rendon, LaRoche and Zimmerman all putting the first pitch they saw into play. They did have a potential rally going, with two on and one out, but Desmond tapped a comebacker, which turned into an easy 1-4-3 double play when Desmond didn’t run out of the box immediately. He came back to argue with Adrian Johnson, perhaps thinking there was catcher’s interference? Replays showed it wasn’t even close, though, so not sure what Ian was thinking. Regardless, it’s still a scoreless game here in the second.
8:15 p.m. — Yikes. Terrible bottom of the second for Roark. He gave up a couple of singles, plunked his second batter of the night, then grooved a 91-mph fastball to Ramiro Pena, who sent it flying into the right field bleachers for a 3-run homer. The Nats trail 4-0 all of a sudden and Roark is having all kinds of trouble keeping the ball down in the zone (or off opponents’ hips) and has seen his pitch count skyrocket to 43.
8:33 p.m. — Man, oh, man, Roark’s command is waaaayyy off tonight. He plunked three of the first 14 batters he faced, including Justin Upton in the bottom of the third. That came moments after Chris Johnson roped a double off the wall in left, and preceded Roark falling behind 3-0 to Dan Uggla. Somehow he got out of the mess when Zimmerman made a nifty backhand scoop of Uggla’s grounder down the line, stepped on third and then threw sidearm to first (with LaRoche making a nice scoop) to complete an inning-ending double play. Still 4-0 Braves after three, but honestly it could be much worse.
8:50 p.m. — The good news: The Nats have been hitting Teheran hard all night, and those hits started falling in during the top of the fourth. LaRoche drew yet another walk and now sports a .500 OBP (20-for-40) on the season. The downside to LaRoche getting on base so much, though, is that he then has to run the bases so much. His station-to-station jaunts aren’t helping much. He did score on Desmond’s RBI single to left, but a Lobaton strikeout with the bases loaded really killed a potential rally. Roark grounded out to end the inning and stand three teammates on base. So it’s 4-1 Braves as we go to the bottom of the fourth.
9:12 p.m. — Best way to avoid those station-to-station situations? Just hit the ball out of the park. And get some help from Uggla, whose horrible throw on LaRoche’s routine grounder to second allowed the top of the fifth to continue and brought Zimmerman to the plate with two on and two out. He got ahead 3-0, took a strike, then swung through a fastball, setting up a 3-2 showdown. Which he won, big-time. Zim crushed Teheran’s full-count fastball deep to left, a three-run homer that tied this game 4-4. Yes, they benefited from Uggla’s ghastly error. But they took advantage of the situation, which is what good teams do. Whole new ballgame now.
9:42 p.m. — Well, the Legend of Aaron Barrett has finally hit its first bump in the road. Brought in to face Johnson with two outs and the go-ahead runner on second, Barrett battled through a 10-pitch at-bat before surrendering an RBI single. That’s the first hit he has allowed to 14 big-league batters faced in his career. The inning ended on another close play at second base, with Fredi Gonzalez jogging out there to talk with Angel Hernandez while waiting for the challenge/no-challenge signal from the Braves dugout. Actually, Fredi wasn’t even talking to Angel. They just both stood there waiting for the signal. And after a minute delay, there was no challenge anyway. This is my problem with the new replay system. It encourages wasting time without ever actually challenging the call. Anyways, Braves back on top 5-4.
9:50 p.m. — And the Nats storm right back to tie the game again. Lobaton doubles into the left field corner, then Kevin Frandsen delivers his first pinch-hit RBI with the Nationals, emphatically clapping his hands together after singling in Lobaton to make this a 5-5 game.
10:10 p.m. — Good lord, we’ve seen it all in this game. Including LaRoche trying to score — FROM SECOND BASE — on a wild pitch. He was called out on a close play at the plate, and Matt Williams decided to challenge the call. Replays were clear: He was indeed out. Wasted challenge by the Nats, and so it remains 5-5 at the stretch.
10:18 p.m. — Nice job by Ross Detwiler to calm things down here. Two scoreless innings of relief, keeping this a tie game heading tot he eighth.
10:32 p.m. — It just keeps getting weirder. Harper bunts for a single. He’s prevented from going first-to-third when Nate McLouth’s rocket up the middle strikes Angel Hernandez. Harper then scores on Span’s two-out single to center, but Span then runs into Uggla and goes down in a heap. After all that, it’s 6-5 Nats. Real boring game tonight, huh?
10:43 p.m. — And this game is tied again. Justin Upton takes Tyler Clippard (who has had a rough two weeks to start the season) deep to center. It’s 6-6, heading to the ninth.
10:53 p.m. — Craig Kimbrel. Mercy. He strikes out Werth, LaRoche and Zimmerman in the top of the ninth. Now it’s Drew Storen in the bottom of the ninth.
11:02 p.m. — And now Storen does his best Kimbrel impersonation. Struck out the side himself. Anybody up for extra innings?
11:15 p.m. — The Nats had a chance in the top of the 10th against Luis Avilan, with Danny Espinosa pinch-hitting and Desmond on second base. That’s a good matchup for Espinosa, batting right-handed, and the Braves realized it, intentionally walking him and going after Span instead. Denard battled impressively, fouling three two-strike pitches off, but he grounded out to end the inning. So it’s now Jerry Blevins for the bottom of the 10th in a 6-6 game.
11:28 p.m. — Nats lose. Jordan Schafer attempted to steal second, and in doing so moved Anthon Rendon out of position, leaving him unable to get to Justin Upton’s bloop single. Tough way for this to end. 7-6 final in 10.
COUNTDOWN TO OPENING DAY
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.
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