In the first game of a day/night doubleheader at Nats Park, the skies remained overcast, cloudy and gray with a misty rain for the duration, setting a soggy pall over the stadium. The Washington Nationals hitters acted as if they were affected by seasonal affective disorder, shut down by Ben Sheets and two Atlanta Braves relievers, en route to a 4-0 loss before 28,745 waterlogged patrons.
The loss drops the Nats to 53-39, just 1 1/2 games ahead of the Braves (52-41) in the N. L. East.
To make matters worse, Bryce Harper left the game in the second inning after fouling a bunt attempt off his back foot. According to manager Davey Johnson, Harper’s MRI showed no break, but he was non-committal as to Harper’s availability for the second game, based on how he responds to treatment between games.
Nats starter Edwin Jackson was superb for seven innings, allowing just Brian McCann’s solo home run in the second inning. But for the second straight game, the Nats bullpen was ineffective, giving up three runs in the final two innings, preventing any sort of comeback from the listless Nats bats.
Sheets, the veteran pitcher making his second start of the season for the Braves, limited any damage the Nats tried to commit. Washington had base runners in each of the first four innings but failed to produce each time, including an inning ending double play grounder by Michael Morse in the third inning — with runners on the corners and Morse in a 2-1 count. Johnson called the rally-ender the “momentum killer.”
The Nats went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position, stranding six. They managed just six hits and three walks on the day.
Henry Rodriguez, called upon to pitch in the eighth, did not retire a batter. He faced three batters, allowing a hit, stolen base and two walks. Ryan Mattheus wasn’t any better, surrendering two runs on three hits and a walk, including Chipper Jones’ mammoth pinch-hit home run off the facing of the upper deck in right field.
The Nats send John Lannan against the Braves in the second game, making his 2012 season debut. Lannan (6-9, 4.89, 1.55 WHIP for AAA-Syracuse) will face Randall Delgado (4-9, 4.52) at 7:05 pm trying to halt a two-game skid to the Nats closest competition in the N.L. East.