Cox out-duels Riggelman in an extra inning chess match

Despite late inning heroics from Josh Willingham to push the game to extra innings, the Nationals fell in the 10th Wednesday night as Matt Diaz singled in Brandon Hicks pushing the score to 7-6.

It was a thing of beauty in its own right. Bobby Cox, a manager who has been underappreciated for his greatness, manufactured another win in the same way he had for the last 30 years. After slugging first-baseman Troy Glaus reached on a single, Cox pinch ran for him with Hicks. With a runner on and no outs, Cox gave the order to have slumping Melky Cabrera lay a sacrifice bunt to put Hicks in scoring position. The very next batter, Matt Diaz, poked a single to right scoring Hicks. Just the way Cox wrote it up, and just the way he has led his teams to 2,425 wins throughout his career.

The crushing blow came against Nationals closer Matt Capps, who up until this point, had been perfect. The loss was his first on the season. In 15 appearances the closer has registered 11 saves, 16 strikeouts, and has allowed only two earned runs.

The 69-year-old Cox’s rendering was a response to some great moves by Nationals manager Jim Riggleman earlier in the game. In the top of the sixth, down 6-4, the Nationals couldn’t afford to give up any more runs. They had allowed two runners to reach base with no outs. After Atilano struck out Tommy Hanson, Riggelman brought in Sean Burnett as well as two defensive replacements. Burnett retired the next two batters before intentionally walking Chipper Jones, and in doing so loading the bases. Riggleman’s move paid off as McCann struck out to end the inning, and the Nationals escaped unscathed.

Cox’s club got up early by getting to the young Nationals Starting pitcher, Luis Atilano, who had the worst outing of his short career. Facing the team that drafted him 22nd overall in 2003, the 24-year-old allowed six earned runs on seven hits. Atilano walked five batters while only striking out four, meaning he allowed 13 base runners in only 5.1 innings pitched.

Strikes were a problem for him all night. In 98 pitches only 58 crossed the plate as a strike. In fact, they’ve been a problem throughout his first three professional starts, as Atilano has posted 5.19 walks per nine innings this year. Compared to only 3.12 strikeouts per nine innings, it’s no surprise that things finally caught up to Atilano after two straight starts where he allowed no more than two-earned runs.  Still, with only a .284 batting average allowed on balls put in play, he isn’t over achieving, he just simply needs to cut down on the walks and stop putting runners on base.

At the plate the Nationals can take solace in the fact that they were able to get to the Braves best young starting pitcher, Tommy Hanson. The club scored four earned runs over six innings on nine hits against the 24-year-old who was the owner of a 2.17 ERA coming into last nights game. The biggest shot against the young pitcher came from the Nationals rookie shortstop, Ian Desmond. Desmond and Hanson have faced each other a lot over the past several years. Both 24-year-olds growing up in the same division, the two faced each other often in the minors. According to Desmond, Hanson usually got the better of him, but that wasn’t the case last night as the youngster launched his second homer in as many nights to tie the game 2-2 in the second.

The Nats got offensive contributions from Nyjer Morgan, who went three for five on the night, and Ivan Rodriguez who went two for five and continues to hit above .400 going into the second month of the season.

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