It was an Opening Day lineup for the Washington Nationals on Monday, but the team is hoping it was not an Opening Day result.
Stephen Strasburg and Paul Maholm locked up for a splendid pitcher’s duel for five innings before the Atlanta Braves finally broke through in the sixth, scoring six times en route to a 7-2 win over the Nationals in Viera, FL.
Aside from Ryan Zimmerman getting the start at designated hitter instead of third base, Davey Johnson‘s starting nine mirrored the expected Opening Day lineup Washington could send out to battle the Miami Marlins on April 1. Johnson took advantage of the balance in his every day starters, going lefty-righty all the way down the order. None of that mattered though, to Maholm, who threw five scoreless innings against the Washington A-team, allowing just two hits while striking out five.
Strasburg matched him throughout those five frames, striking out five as well and allowing just one hit and one walk. But sent out to start the sixth inning, the Nationals ace finally ran into trouble. Single, single, walk, single — the deadlock was broken and Strasburg’s day was done. Zach Duke relieved Strasburg and continued to cough it up, surrendering a pair of doubles, a single and a walk. By the time the dust settled, Atlanta had a 6-0 lead.
The Braves tacked on one more run in the 8th against Henry Rodriguez, still trying to recapture the form that made him a potential closer as recently as last season. The hard-throwing righty set down the first two batters he faced before giving up two singles and a hit batter to provide Atlanta’s seventh run of the day.
Washington finally broke through in the eighth against reliever Aaron Northcraft, with Carlos Rivero driving in a run with a single. Tyler Moore added a home run in the ninth to provide the final score, but Washington fell to 6-8 on the spring with the loss.
The Nationals are off on Tuesday, but will split the squad for a pair of games on Wednesday. Jordan Zimmermann will try to bounce back from his “dead arm” with an outing against the Mets in Viera, while Ross Ohlendorf will start for the road tripping Nats, who will travel to Kissimmee to battle Bo Porter‘s Astros.