The rookies pitched their hearts out for the Washington Nationals (29-28) on Sunday, but without much support from their veterans, the Nats were not able to secure a win over the Atlanta Braves (34-22).
The Nationals tallied only five hits in the 6-3 loss, which lost them the series and put them a season-high six and a half games behind the NL East leading Braves.
Nathan Karns made his second big-league start for the Nationals, and kept the game close for four and two-thirds innings. He gave up three earned runs on seven hits and one walk with six strikeouts, but was charged with the loss.
Karns started off the game in a rough place after a Ryan Zimmerman throwing error put the leadoff batter on base, and Ramiro Pena hit a home run on the first pitch after the debacle. Karns gave up a single to Justin Upton before settling in and striking out the next two batters he faced.
He ran into trouble again in the second inning when he gave up a home run to B.J. Upton, but pitched a scoreless third and a 1-2-3 fourth. Justin Upton singled again in the fifth, and a subsequent walk to Evan Gattis knocked Karns from the game.
Zach Duke came in to relieve Karns, and promptly made a close game out of reach for the Nationals, who have yet to overcome a three-run deficit in a game this year. Duke faced eight batters, but got only two outs and allowed two earned runs on two hits and four walks.
He started his outing by giving up a single to Brian McCann for one run, then walked Dan Uggla but didn’t do any more damage that inning. In the sixth inning, Duke walked the first two hitters, got Pena out on a sacrifice bunt, and then intentionally walked Justin Upton to load the bases.
He then gave up a two-run double to Freddie Freeman, which was close to being a grand slam, before manager Davey Johnson called on Erik Davis to clean up Duke’s mess in his Major-League debut. Davis got an out for all five batters he faced, and exited his debut with a final pitching line filled with zeros, plus two strikeouts.
Fernando Abad pitched a scoreless eighth to keep the Braves from tacking on any more runs, but without support from the offense, the game was already lost.
The Nats’ offense struck early, scoring two runs in the second inning on a Tyler Moore single and a throwing error after Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond doubled and singled, respectively.
Desmond was the big contributor of the day, going 2-for-4 with a home run in the sixth inning, but the Nats did not score again after that inning as they continued their streak of failing to score against the Braves’ bullpen this season.
The Braves’ offense, which tallied nine hits in their victory, was led by Freeman and the Upton brothers. Freeman went 2-for-4 with two RBIs, and Justin Upton went 3-for-4 with a walk and a run.
Most surprising though, was B.J. Upton’s home run in the bottom of the second. Though he entered this series with a .146 batting average, he batted .333 during it (3-for-9), including Sunday’s homer and the game-winning hit in the 10th inning on Saturday night.
If B.J. Upton, who is a .251 career hitter, is breaking out of his season-long slump, that could spell bad news for the Nationals, as it would add another force to the Braves’ already solid offense.
Following Sunday’s game, LaRoche said the Nationals deserved to again have a sub-.500 record because his team had “played like crap” recently. He acknowledged that the Nats still have time to make a move in the standings, but said they needed to do it soon as they are over one-third of the way into the season.
The Nationals will have the chance to make that move in their coming home stand, when they will play the New York Mets and the Minnesota Twins. Though they are not the toughest opponents in the majors, a series win over both teams is an opportunity for the Nats to show that they are still the postseason contenders they were touted to be, and not a team worthy of LaRoche’s frank description.