It started exciting, quickly turned ugly and ended disappointing.
The Washington Nationals (7-4) lost for the fourth time in five meetings with the Atlanta Braves (7-4) on Saturday night, 6-3, spectacularly failing to capitalize on scoring opportunities.
The Nats had chances to score in every inning with a total of 11 hits, but went a miserable 1-for-16 with runners in scoring position.
Possibly their best opportunity came in the top of the eighth when Ian Desmond doubled (more on that later), Sandy Leon hit an RBI-single and Jayson Werth singled to start a rally. A hit would have allowed the Nationals to take the lead or at least tie the game. Instead, Anthony Rendon flew out to end the inning and strand two runners, capturing the feeling of the entire game.
Despite his untimely out, Rendon continued to be among the most productive Nationals. He went 2-for-4, which brought his batting average to .359, and hit a leadoff home run, his first of the season, in the top of the first inning. Kevin Frandsen was the only other National to get two hits.
Though the offense didn’t do much to support him, starting pitcher Taylor Jordan grinded his way through five innings after a messy first.
Jordan struggled with leaving pitches over the plate, resulting in giving up a leadoff home run to B.J. Upton, who was hitting .135 going into Saturday’s game. He settled in after a four-run first inning, and did not allow another run until the fifth, after which he was lifted in favor of Blake Treinen.
Treinen was called up before the game from Triple-A Syracuse, and made his major-league debut in the sixth inning for the Nationals. He pitched two scoreless innings, allowed only one hit and struck out one while providing relief for an over-taxed bullpen that had pitched 14 innings over the three previous games.
Craig Stammen relieved Treinen. He surrendered a home run to first baseman Freddie Freeman, but did not allow the Braves’ lead to exceed three runs.
Resistance was futile against Braves closer Craig Kimbrel, who gave up a hit to Danny Espinosa, but otherwise shut down the Nationals’ offense in the top of the ninth to earn his league-leading fifth save of the season.
Adding injury to insult, Ryan Zimmerman fractured his right thumb sliding into second in the top of the fifth inning while trying to avoid being picked off (he was anyway). Zimmerman will miss four to six weeks with the injury, and with Werth’s groin a concern and Denard Span out with a concussion, the laundry list of injuries just keeps getting longer for the Nationals.
The Nationals performance overall was disappointing, but to add some excitement to a frustrating game, Ian Desmond and the Braves’ outfield created a wacky déjà vu moment recalling Desmond’s almost inside-the-park home run during the Nationals’ home opener.
Just like on April 4, Desmond smacked a ball to the outfield that became lodged under the padding of the outfield wall, Jason Heyward (instead of Justin Upton) threw his hands up and Desmond raced around all four bases. And just like the first time, his hit was ruled a ground rule double, though much less controversially because this ball was more obviously lodged.
Though fortunately not in that case, umpiring was frustrating for the Nationals during this game, resulting in the famously even-keeled Adam LaRoche giving an umpire a piece of his mind after a call he disagreed with, which was one of many calls of the night that didn’t go the Nationals’ way. However, as The Nats Blog’s twitter account tweeted during the game, the Nats lost to playing bad baseball, not bad umpiring.
They didn’t hit when they needed to, and made mistakes when they shouldn’t have. Though the Nationals have shown they can dominate low-grade teams, they still have yet to prove they can consistently contend in head-to-head matchups with talented teams such as the Braves.