Nats Fall 2-1 In 2014 Home Opener

After being bumped from his first start with flu-like symptoms, Jordan Zimmermann made his first start of the 2014 season, and he sure didn’t look like a guy who was suffering from a stomach virus less than 24 hours prior. He threw 10 pitches to retire the side in order in the first inning and hit 95 mph on the radar gun with his fastball.

It got even better from there for Zimmermann through the early innings, as he locked in a pitcher’s duel with Braves starter David Hale. Zimmermann gave up just two hits and struck out seven batters in the first four innings, culminating with striking out the side.

The Nats got their first real offensive opportunity in the bottom of the fourth inning after Adam LaRoche walked and Ryan Zimmerman lined a double over Justin Upton’s head in left field. Upton could have caught the ball if he went to the right spot, but it hit hard off the wall and bounced back toward the infield. LaRoche, running from first, was sent by third base coach Bob Henley, which proved to be a massive mistake. Andrelton Simmons caught the relay from Upton and threw a strike to Evan Gattis at home, and LaRoche was out by a proverbial mile.

That base running blunder came up large in the top of the fifth, as Gattis tattooed a leadoff line drive home run over the Braves bullpen, which gave the Braves a 1-0 lead. Zimmermann struggled with his control throughout the inning, and he gave up a hit to Andrelton Simmons and walked Jason Heyward. One pitch before the Heyward walk, Simmons was caught stealing on a nice throw by Jose Lobaton, but then Heyward stole second in the next at bat. Zimmermann got himself out of his own mini-jam by striking out BJ Upton to end the inning.

The bottom of the fifth was mired in a controversy that will be much discussed throughout the weekend, after Ian Desmond hit a ball hard down the left field line, and it stopped underneath the padding in the corner. Justin Upton immediately threw up his hands that the ball was stuck, but Desmond kept running, and the original call was an inside-the-park home run.

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez challenged the ruling, and the call was overturned under rule 7.05(f), sending Desmond back to second base. In what looked like a move of frustration, he tried to steal third base and got caught up in a rundown. After the game, Matt Williams said about the attempt, “it was a little over aggressive.”

The offense made up for it in the sixth inning after Anthony Rendon and Jayson Werth both reached to start the inning. LaRoche moved Rendon up on a fielder’s choice grounder to second, and Zimmerman drove Rendon home on a sacrifice fly to deep center, tying the game 1-1.

After two solid innings of work from Craig Stammen, Tyler Clippard entered in the eighth inning and immediately walked Heyward. That walk came back to haunt Clippard, who gave up a single to Freeman, allowing Heyward to go first-to-third. He scored on a Chris Johnson sacrifice fly, putting the Braves back ahead 2-1.

David Carpenter entered in the eighth and gave the Nats their best offensive chance of the game. He gave up a single to Rendon and then walked Werth for a first and second with none out situation with LaRoche, Zimmerman, and Bryce Harper due up. All three struck out, Harper looking, to end the inning.

Desmond, Lobaton, and Kevin Frandsen all faced the buzzsaw that is Craig Kimbrel in the ninth and weren’t able to mount a comeback, as the Nats fell 2-1 for their first loss of the season.

Some thoughts:

  • This first of 19 meetings between the Nationals and Braves certainly lived up to the billing. A home opener, strong pitching performances, and controversy are just the beginning.
  • The Nats ran themselves into a few base running blunders, including Harper and Desmond getting caught in rundowns and LaRoche being sent home in the fourth inning.
  • Zimmermann’s struggles in the fifth were clearly related to recovering from flu-like symptoms from yesterday. In the post-game press conference, Matt Williams admitted that Zimmermann was unable to eat much yesterday or this morning, so stamina and energy were real factors.

(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Joe Drugan

About Joe Drugan

Joe is the Managing Editor of The Nats Blog and host of the Nats Talk On The Go podcast. He's been blogging about the Nationals since 2010 and with The Nats Blog since 2011.