The Nationals had an opportunity to beat the Braves for the first time this season on Monday. Not only did the Nats lose their fourth straight game to their chief division rivals, but they got scary news on two of their star players. Stephen Strasburg felt forearm tightness following his start, which is never good news for a pitcher and is more concerning when that pitcher has had Tommy John surgery in his past. We certainly won't pass judgement on what's going on until we here from doctors, though. For what it's worth, after the game, Strasburg said to Amanda Comak and other reporters, "I'm not missing my next start, I'll tell you right now." Jayson Werth, who fouled a ball hard off his ankle in his eighth inning at bat, left the game and said he also felt cramping in his hamstring prior to taking the ball to the ankle.
We'll have to see what happens on the injury front from here, but let's talk about a game that the Nats had ample opportunities to win but were unable to do so. Strasburg was shaky in his first five innings, struggling command, but he still managed to get through those innings on just 80 pitches including five strikeouts and fastball velocity in the mid-to-upper 90s while giving up just two runs on six hits. The most un-Strasburg-like part of his outing was his four walks. He came out for the sixth and managed to mow down Chris Johnson, Dan Uggla, and B.J. Upton on 13 pitches, all swinging strikeouts. His final four pitches of the game to B.J. Upton were all fastballs clocked at 96, 96, 97, 97, respectively. Not bad at all.
The Nationals got on the board early after Justin Upton scored in the first inning to give the Braves the early 1-0 lead. In the second, Adam LaRoche got of his 0-for-26 slump with an opposite field single over shortstop Andrelton Simmons head. The usually unemotional first baseman couldn't help but crack a smile as he stood on first base. Ian Desmond then lined a single to right, and Chad Tracy hit a grounder through the right side of the infield scoring LaRoche from second. Kurt Suzuki then pulled one through the left side of the infield to score Desmond, putting the Nats on top 2-1.
The Nats offense stopped there, unfortunately, but not for lack of opportunities. The Nats logged 10 hits and a walk throughout the game, but they stranded six runners on base, and were just 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position. Situational hitting was an issue for the Nats early in 2012, to, but this was a frustrating one to watch, especially when you saw the way Strasburg was battling despite not having his best stuff.
Tyler Clippard entered the game in the seventh, surrendering yet another walk that lead to the eventual game winning run scored by Freddie Freeman on a Gerald Laird single.
- Is it possible the lofty expectations for Stephen Strasburg have gotten us so spoiled that when Strasburg throws six innings in fewer than 100 pitches, gives up just two runs on six hits, and strikes out eight that we're concerned about his command? Strasburg still has a 3.13 ERA on the season, and while his four walks were not typical, he still managed to pitch with great results. Isn't that exactly what your ace is supposed to do?
- Tyler Clippard has been among the Nats most inconsistent relievers this season, some days he looks dominant with a changeup that hitters simply can't figure out, throwing it well off of his fastball. Others, like in this loss to the Braves, he cannot get his pitches down in the zone. Of the 19 pitches he threw in the seventh, I cannot remember one that was a strike that was down in the zone. We'll have more about this on the site soon.
- Drew Storen had what may have been the best outing of his season in the eighth inning. He breezed through the inning on nine pitches, recording two strikeouts, and not allowing a base runner. Storen has been inconsistent, too, which Davey Johnson has lamented about the back end of his bullpen. Hopefully, this is the final step in the right direction for Storen.