Ryan Zimmerman is tagged out by Evan Gattis in the ninth inning of the Nats 2-1 loss to Atlanta Saturday. (Image: Daniel Shiry, USA Today)

Punchless Nats Fall to Braves in 10


At first glance, Saturday’s 2-1 Nationals loss to the Atlanta Braves might look just like what fans have come to expect these days — a offense that is out of ideas, a bullpen that is having trouble shutting opponents down, a starting pitcher seeing a sterling performance wasted. But there were some unexpected plot twists this time around — actually, let’s play a game here. We’ll call it: “Could We See This Coming?”

Scenario 1: Henry Rodriguez has trouble with his command and comes up short in a pressure situation. Could We See This Coming? YES

Rodriguez was summoned to start the 10th inning of a 1-1 game, manager Davey Johnson forced into the move due to lack of options in the bullpen. Rodriguez came out throwing cheese, as per usual, but his 102-MPH fastball wasn’t finding the strike zone and he walked Atlanta’s first batter of the inning, Evan Gattis, on four pitches. After Ramiro Pena gave Washington an out by popping up a bunt, Gattis’s pinch-runner, Jordan Schafer, swiped second base.

We probably could have seen that coming too. Over Rodriguez’s career, he has allowed 38 of 40 attempted basestealers to reach their target. Speaking of Rodriguez’s ability to hold runners, Johnson told CSN’s Mark Zuckerman, “He can’t do it.”

Another walk, this one to Dan Uggla, set up Scenario 2, which is …

B.J. Upton gets the game-winning hit. Could We See This Coming? NO

Upton, making his first start since Wednesday as Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez tried to get him going, entered the game hitting .145. Gonzalez moved the free agent acquisition to the eight spot in the lineup, and a chorus of boos from the Atlanta crowd greeted Upton’s every failure. The one situation where you might think Rodriguez had an advantage, but instead, Upton hit a broken-bat looper into right. Roger Bernadina made a solid throw, but Schafer got there first, scoring the winning run and sending the Braves home happy.

All this could have been avoided, meanwhile, had the Nationals taken advantage of the huge opportunity which presented itself in the top of the ninth inning. Facing Braves closer Craig Kimbrel, normally as automatic as they come, Washington caught a break, getting a leadoff broken-bat single by Ryan Zimmerman and a double by Adam LaRoche, moving runners to second and third with no outs. Which leads us to Scenario 3, namely …

The Nationals have two men in scoring position with no outs and don’t get a run home. Could We See This Coming? YES

The way the Washington offense has been going for most of the season, and even more glaringly with Bryce Harper out of the lineup, getting a run here goes from a formality to pipe dream. Ian Desmond had the first opportunity, but looked at strike three. Bernadina then hit a chopper to third which allowed the Braves to gun down ZImmerman at the plate for the second out. Danny Espinosa then ended the “threat” with a fly ball to left.

The previous eight innings were a showcase of good starting pitching, for the most part. Gio Gonzalez and Tim Hudson each cruised through the opposing batting orders, both pitchers allowing just three hits in at least seven innings of work. It was more of the same for Hudson, who has shut the Nats down routinely in his career, while Gonzalez shook off a sketchy history against Atlanta and once again, deserved more than the no-decision he got.

Perhaps the bright spot for Washington was Scenario 4, which was …

No Nationals player got hurt in this game. Could We See This Coming? NO

With the departure of Stephen Strasburg from Friday’s game after two innings and Harper officially placed on the 15-day disabled list, the Nationals’ burgeoning injury list got even more impressive. Strasburg was diagnosed with a mild lat strain, and will play it by ear in regards to his next start. Harper, meanwhile, finally made his way to the DL, still gimpy from the left knee bursitis brought on by the Dodger Stadium wall. He won’t be back before June 11.

The Nats and Braves wrap up the series on Sunday afternoon, with Washington’s Nathan Karns (0-0, 6.23 ERA) making his second major league start against Atlanta’s Paul Maholm (6-4, 3.74).

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