With an opportunity to expand their lead over the Atlanta Braves in the NL East to 9 1/2 games, the Washington Nationals’ bullpen failed to silence the Braves’ bats as Washington fell 2-1.
Looking to become the fourth pitcher in the Nats’ starting rotation to reach 10 wins this season, Ross Detwiler (ND, 9-6, 3.23) was sharp through six innings, allowing only one run and seven hits and striking out five. However, Braves’ righty Kris Medlen (ND, 8-1, 1.64) put on a stellar performance as well, shutting down the Nats’ offense with his changeup and setting a new career record for strikeouts with 13.
The Braves failed to hit the ball hard against Detwiler through the first three innings, despite having faced him four previous times this season, but Freddie Freeman took advantage of a hanging slider in the top of the fourth and led off with a hard liner to left. Dan Uggla walked and David Ross grounded into a fielder’s choice as Ian Desmond got the force out at second and nearly nabbed Freeman at third. Andrelton Simmons batted in the first run of the game with a sacrifice fly to right before Detwiler struck out Medlen to end the inning.
The Nats’ bench would prove invaluable once again—this time, in the field—as Roger Bernadina robbed the Braves of a run in the fifth by chasing down a high fly ball to deep left field to make a phenomenal, self-sacrificing catch before slamming into the wall. Despite the collision, Bernadina remained in the game and showed no signs of discomfort.
On the first pitch of the sixth inning, Bryce Harper put the Nats on the board with a solo shot to left, his 19th homer of the season. However, Medlen’s changeup continued to frustrate the Nats who failed to get a runner on base until Kurt Suzuki singled with two outs in the bottom of the seventh. The Nats batted Corey Brown in place of Detwiler, but Brown, too, fell victim to Medlen’s offspeed pitch and struck out swinging.
In the bottom of the seventh, Bernadina saved the Nats yet again by robbing Michael Bourn of an extra-base hit with a spectacular catch to his left at the wall.
The Braves turned to lefty Eric O’Flaherty in the eighth who pitched a one-two-three inning before righty Craig Kimbrel (W, 2-1, 1.16) went on to strike out the side in the ninth.
For the second game in a row, the Nats banked on Sean Burnett (L, 1-2, 2.44) to provide relief in a high-pressure situation, but back-to-back singles by Simmons and Bourn would leave runners at first and third with one out for pinch-hitter Tyler Pastornicky who grounded to Ian Desmond. As Simmons rounded third, Desmond tried to rush the throw home, but the ball sailed wide of the plate, allowing Simmons to score on a walk-off error.
THE TAKEAWAY: The Nationals’ starting pitching continues to dominate. Although Ross Detwiler’s offspeed pitches didn’t appear to dazzle the same way Kris Medlen’s did throughout the night, he pitched out of jams and kept the Braves at bay in a game that had the look and feel of playoff baseball.
THE GOOD: Bryce Harper remains hot in September – he was 2-for-3 on the night with a home run and a walk against a top-notch performance by Atlanta pitching.
THE BAD: Michael Morse did not take batting practice today due to a torn sheath and bone bruise in his left hand. Morse said he believed he initially sustained the injury last month while compensating for a problem with his right thumb. Davey Johnson said he will likely be out until at least Tuesday.
THE UGLY: Ian Desmond’s throw home in the ninth – his 15th error of the season – cost the Nationals the game, leaving Washington’s Magic Number for the division at 11.
Prior to the error by Desmond, Sean Burnett appeared to choke under pressure. After giving up two hard-hit singles in the ninth inning during Wednesday’s game against the Mets, Burnett failed to deliver effective pitches in a high-pressure situation and allowed the Braves’ Tyler Pastornicky to bat in the game-winning run.
STATISTICS: Five hits, 1 BB, 13 Ks, 0-for-1 with RISP, none GIDP, 5 LOB, 1 Error (Desmond, 15)
NEXT GAME: Saturday at 4:05 p.m. against the Braves. Edwin Jackson (9-10, 3.85) faces Tommy Hanson (12-8, 4.35)