April 24, 2014

Washington Nationals Game 26 Review: Nats waste chances in 3-2 loss to Braves

STRASBURG EXAMINED BY DOCTORS FOR “FOREARM TIGHTNESS” AFTER THE GAME

Stephen Strasburg wasn’t himself yet again, giving up 10 base runners in six innings. There were several close or missed calls by the umpires on the bases. And Tyler Clippard couldn’t hold a tie game in the seventh.

But the bottom line in the Washington Nationals 3-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves — the Nats eighth loss in a row to their division opponent — was repeated missed opportunities with runners on base, as the Nats had seven hits in the first six outs and managed to score just twice against Braves rookie starter Julio Teheran.

Denard Span was picked off after singling in the first inning. In the second, a strikeout trying to sacrifice bunt turned into a double play when the runner off second strayed too far.  A hard hop turned into a 3-6 double play in the third. Two one-out singles in the fourth died on the vine. Two no-out runners in the sixth did the same. The Nats repeatedly put runners on base against the Braves and either ran into outs or couldn’t cash them in.

Add it all up, and the Nats (13-13) fall back to .500, 3 1/2 games behind the Braves in the N.L. East.

Adding injury to insult, after the game Strasburg complained of forearm tightness and was being examined by the Nationals medical staff.

Strasburg struck out eight in six innings, allowing two earned runs on six hits and a wildly uncharacteristic four walks. Several times in the first inning he missed so badly with fastballs that Kurt Suzuki couldn’t handle that went all the way to the backstop. He struggled with his fastball command all evening long, and often was seen shaking out his arm, lifting it above his head trying to keep it loose. On one visit to the mound by pitching coach Steve McCatty, Strasburg seemed visibly agitated, and had a look of exasperation on his face all evening long.

That he did battle through it and keep his team in the game was a testament to his tenacity and talent, but we’ll have to wait and see on the doctor’s review for any long-term prognosis.

Strasburg’s first inning struggles this season continued against the Braves, and he was lucky to escape the first with just one run against. He walked the leadoff batter, Jordan Schafer, on a 3-2 after missing wildly with several fastballs. Andrelton Simmons struck out, but Schafer stole second on the swinging strike three. Justin Upton, leading the N.L. in home runs this season, singled to right to score Schafer, and it was 1-0 after three batters.

First baseman Freddie Freeman followed with a single and Upton went to third, but Freeman took a wide turn at first and Ian Desmond threw behind the runner to nab him at first – in a very close play — to limit the damage against Strasburg.

The Nats jumped all over Braves starter Julio Teheran in the second and scored twice, but could have had so much more. The Nats hit four consecutive singles, from Adam LaRoche, Desmond, Chad Tracy and Kurt Suzuki, to take a 2-1 lead. Strasburg tried to sacrifice but could not get the job done. When he bunted through strike three, Tracy led too far off second and was thrown out by catcher Gerald Laird for a killer double play.

Strasburg continued to labor inning after inning, but kept the Braves off the board until the fourth. Again, a leadoff walk came back to hurt Strasburg, as Freeman drew a base on balls leading off. Dan Uggla’s one-out single moved Freeman up a base, but Strasburg got B.J. Upton swinging for the second out and looked like he might escape. But Laird took an o-1 fastball to center on a line to bring Freeman home. The Nats cut the ball and threw to get Uggla out at third and the replay showed they got the out before the run crossed, but home plate umpire Laz Diaz upheld the run scoring.

Strasburg performed better as the night went on, and struck out the side in the sixth to end his outing, punctuated by a 98-MPH fastball to finish off B.J. Upton.

The Braves took the lead against Tyler Clippard in the seventh. Again, the Nats pitchers allowed a leadoff walk, and again it came around to score. Laird walked on five pitches to start the inning, went to second on a sacrifice, took third on a single by Schafer and scored on Simmons’ sacrifice line drive to Jayson Werth in right.

THE GOOD: Ian Desmond. 2-for-4, run scored.

THE BAD: Tyler Clippard. Took the loss and didn’t look sharp.

THE UGLY: Stephen Strasburg. In previous games, he’d been able to right the ship after his first inning struggles. But in this one, he never really did find his rhythm, despite making some big pitches. But his health is the main concern now.

THE STATS: 10 hits, 1 BB, 11 ks. 2-for-9 with RISP, 6 LOB. No errors, 1 DP.

NEXT GAME: Tuesday at 7:10 pm at Atlanta. Gio Gonzalez (2-1, 4.50) faces Tim Hudson (2-1, 4.50).

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