April 16, 2014

Washington Nationals Game 51 Review: Hammel, Orioles hand Nats first loss vs. AL this season

The Baltimore Orioles (28-23) tallied 15 hits on Memorial Day in Washington, D.C. as the Washington Nationals (26-25) fell 6-2 in front of a sellout crowd.

Washington entered Monday’s game a perfect 5-0 against the American League this season, but the Orioles wasted no time adding a blemish to the Nats’ interleague record. It didn’t help matters that the Nats were shorthanded with bursitis keeping Bryce Harper out of the lineup. Fortunately for the Nats, Harper’s MRI showed no structural damage, which keeps open the possibility that the phenom could return to the lineup in a DH role in a couple days’ time.

Nevertheless, Jason Hammel (W, 7-2) looked sharp through eight innings against the Harper-less Nationals’ order, holding Washington to eight hits and two runs in his stint.

Still, the Nats took an early one-run lead in the second inning via an Adam LaRoche single and stolen base, believe it or not. The snag marked just his second stolen base of the season and the eighth of his career.

Tyler Moore doubled to bring home LaRoche and give Gonzalez a one-run lead into the third.

In the fourth, however, the Orioles answered after Chris Davis led off with a walk and Matt Wieters followed with a single. Steve Pearce flied out to Moore in left, who nearly threw in to Zimmerman to nab Davis at third, but the 27-year-old first baseman slid underneath the tag.

Afterwards, Yamaico Navarro singled to shallow left, bringing home Davis and tying the game, 1-1. Hammel advanced the runners on a sacrifice, allowing Markakis to single up the middle and plate two more runs. As such, Gonzalez not only capped off the inning trailing 3-1, but he also tossed 32 pitches – just three fewer pitches than Hammel had thrown to that point in his outing.

The Orioles looked eager to run away with the lead in the fifth once Adam Jones doubled and Chris Davis singled on a collective total of two pitches thrown by Gonzalez.

Matt Wieters belted a sacrifice fly to right, plating Adam Jones, but Bernadina threw home, allowing Kurt Suzuki to toss to Desmond and catch Davis at second. As a result, the Nats held the Orioles to just a 4-1 lead.

Gonzalez came on to pitch the sixth, but only recorded the first two outs before giving up his fourth walk – this time to Manny Machado – before Davey Johnson called upon Craig Stammen in his relief. When all was said and done, Gonzalez recorded a final line of: 5.2 IP, 8 H, 4 ER, 4 BB, 3 K, with 67 of 109 pitches for strikes.

“[Gonzalez] just didn’t go after [hitters] when he needed to,” Johnson said after the game. “He left a lot of pitches up. I thought he had pretty good stuff, it’s just a good-hitting ball club. Can’t make mistakes to them.”

In the bottom of the sixth, the Nats halved the deficit on a Denard Span triple and follow-through single by Zimmerman. But, in the next half-inning, the Orioles quickly earned back the run on singles by Davis, Wieters and Navarro to make it 5-2 Baltimore.

For added insurance, the O’s tallied one more in the eighth off Henry Rodriguez.   Machado singled and stole second before J.J. Hardy walked, allowing Jones to plate the run with single for a final 6-2 Baltimore lead.

After the game, Johnson announced that the Nats optioned Xavier Cedeno to make room for right-hander Nathan Karns direct from Double-A Harrisburg. Karns will start Tuesday’s game against the Orioles.

“He’s been throwing the ball pretty good lately,” Johnson said. “[Tuesday’s start] will be a good test – we’ll find out [if he’s ready to pitch at this level].”

Johnson noted that Karns’s breaking ball and change-up are among the top pitches in the 25-year-old’s repertoire.

“First time out in spring, he threw the ball good…a little anxious but he’s got a great arm,” Johnson said.

In spring training, Karns was considered one of the Nationals’ top three options in the event that something happened to one of Washington’s starters in the course of the season, Johnson noted.

 

THE GOOD: Ryan Zimmerman went 2-for-4 with an RBI, continuing his hot streak this May.

THE BAD: When Gio Gonzalez wasn’t attacking pitches, he was shying away from the strike zone. He threw a lot of pitches up and away and handed the Orioles unwarranted opportunities with four walks.

THE UGLY: Ryan Zimmerman committed his ninth error of the season Monday in the third inning.

After Jason Hammel struck out swinging and Nick Markakis grounded out, Gonzalez gave up a single to Manny Machado. J.J. Hardy grounded into a would-be fielder’s choice, but Zimmerman overthrew to second on the play. Unlike several of his errors this season, however, this one did not cost the Nats a run. In fact, Zimmerman redeemed himself after the error with a nice scoop-and-throw on the next play to help Gonzalez out of the inning without allowing a run to score.

WORTH NOTING: Davey Johnson stated that both Bryce Harper and Danny Espinosa could make their returns in the days ahead. Espinosa could bat as early as Wednesday and the Nationals also haven’t ruled out starting Harper in a DH opportunity later this week, he said.

THE STATS: 2 R, 8 H, 0 BB, 9 K, 6 LOB, 2-for-11 RISP

NEXT GAME: Tuesday, 7:05 p.m. ET at Nationals Park. 25-year-old RHP Nathan Karns (first career start) vs. 22-year-old RHP Kevin Gausman (0-1, 7.20 ERA) – This should prove an interesting match-up, to say the least.

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