When the ace of the pitching staff exits a game with an injury, the result of the game can feel secondary. However, the Washington Nationals (28-27) put together a rollercoaster of a 3-2 win over the Atlanta Braves (32-22) to make sure their fans were paying attention.
Craig Stammen was the big star of the night, filling in for Stephen Strasburg when he left the game after the second inning with a strained right oblique. Strasburg struck out two and gave up only two hits and one earned run – a home run to Freddie Freeman – and Stammen did a great job of finishing what Strasburg started.
He pitched four perfect innings of relief, allowing no hits, runs or walks with three strikeouts. He threw 49 pitches, and was charged with the win in the longest relief appearance of his career.
Stammen’s outing was especially encouraging in light of Strasburg’s injury. If the Nationals find themselves needing yet another spot starter as Ross Detwiler continues to deal with his own strained oblique, on Friday Stammen showed that he would be a more than capable candidate.
On the offensive side, the Nationals’ hitters came to Atlanta ready to play, continuing their recent positive production right from the first inning. Center fielder Denard Span led off the first with a triple, and left fielder Steve Lombardozzi followed up with a sacrifice fly to bring Span home for an early 1-0 lead.
The duo repeated their first inning performance in the top of the sixth when Span again tripled to lead off the inning – making him tied for most triples in the National League with five – and Lombardozzi sacrificed him home.
Their teamwork twice showed why manager Davey Johnson chose to bat Lombardozzi second in the order instead of second baseman Danny Espinosa, who has a .164 batting average and 45 strikeouts. Lombardozzi’s ability to put the ball in play ensured that Span’s efforts were not squandered, as the Nationals work on breaking their frustrating habit of leaving runners on base.
Espinosa did his part in the second inning, though, when he and Roger Bernadina hit back-to-back singles, and he then slid into second baseman Dan Uggla to break up a double play and allow Bernadina to score on a Kurt Suzuki force out.
However, in an unfortunate characterization of the way his luck has been going lately with his multitude of injuries and diminished confidence at the plate, during the fifth inning he ran into his own bunted ball and was called out.
Overall, the Nats’ offense did well against Julio Teheran, hitting him up for seven hits and three earned runs, which was ultimately just enough, during the six and two-thirds innings he pitched, though Teheran struck Nats out nine times.
After the Braves’ offense was shut down for most of the game by Strasburg and Stammen, things started to get interesting for them with a seventh-inning heart attack courtesy of Tyler Clippard.
Clippard faced seven batters, giving up singles to Ramiro Pena and Freeman, who batted Pena in to tie the game. He then hit both Evan Gattis and Brian McCann with pitches to load the bases, but struck out Dan Uggla and Chris Johnson to escape a jam that could have quickly changed the course of the game.
Drew Storen pitched the eighth, allowing no hits with a strikeout and a walk, before Rafael Soriano came in to pitch a 1-2-3 ninth inning for his 15th save of the year.
The Nats had yet another injury scare during the bottom of the ninth when Suzuki was hit with a foul tip that caught him on an area of his shoulder not covered by his chest protector. Suzuki crumpled on the ground when the ball made contact, worrying everyone associated with an organization that already has one of its starting catchers out with a long-term injury, but Suzuki stayed in the game to catch for the final two outs.
With the win, the Nationals move one game closer to the Braves in the standings, and now trail them by four and a half games. Gio Gonzalez will take the bump next as he tries to lead the Nats to a series win over their rivals against Tim Hudson on Saturday night.