The Principality

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Strasburg Scratched But Braves Can’t Beat Nats


The Braves’ recent stumbles continued Tuesday against NL East basement-dwellers, the Washington Nationals, going down 3-0.  The defeat cut the Braves division lead to just 3 ½ games over the red-hot Philadelphia Phillies, who picked up their sixth win in a row.  A lead that was a healthy 7 ½ games barely a week ago now looks precarious as the team looks to find form against their own division.  Today’s defeat meant the Braves dipped to .500 against NL East rivals.

The game had been billed as a clash between young phenoms.  The hype surrounding Atlanta’s Jason Heyward and Washington’s Stephen Strasburg had reached fever pitch and their first encounter had been eagerly awaited.  However, Strasburg was scratched from the Nationals’ line-up shortly before first pitch after failing to get his arm loose in the bullpen.  "He was having problems getting loose in the bullpen, so I pulled the plug on it.  (It was a) precautionary move," stated Nats GM, Mike Rizzo. "I just didn't want him to go out there when he was struggling to get loose in the bullpen. There is no shooting of pain or anything like that in his shoulder or elbow. He was just struggling to get loose."

With Strasburg gone, Miguel Batista was called upon to make a spot start against the Braves’ own pitching phenom, Tommy Hanson.  Hanson’s struggles of late had seen his record drop from 7-3 with a 3.38 ERA on June 22nd to 8-6 with a 4.02 ERA before tonight’s matchup.  Though Hanson was able to lower his ERA to under 4.00, he took the loss as the Braves failed to get anything going offensively against a makeshift Nationals pitching staff.

The Braves could muster just five hits all evening.  The ever-reliable Martin Prado went 0-4, Heyward went 0-3 after being hit by a Batista pitch in the first inning and neither Brian McCann, Troy Glaus nor Alex Gonzalez troubled the scorers.  It was to be one of those nights.

The Nationals, on the other hand, opened the scoring early.  Center-fielder Nyjer Morgan singled to lead off the first inning.  He then stole second before stealing third and scampering home as McCann’s throw went into left field.  Hanson worked through the first inning, but then found himself on the receiving end of more bad luck in the second inning, though Hanson didn’t help himself.  Again, the Nationals led off the inning with a single by Roger Bernadina, but then Ivan Rodriguez’s grounder was thrown away by Chipper Jones allowing Bernadina to progress to third and the veteran catcher to take second.  Both then scored on a single by shortstop, Ian Desmond.

Though Hanson settled down to go six innings without further scoring, the damage was done.  Batista managed five scoreless innings on three hits, a walk and a hit-by-pitch to Heyward, striking out six along the way.  The bullpen continued Batista’s good work through to the ninth inning when the ever-reliable Matt Capps finished off the Braves 1-2-3.

The result hands the Braves their fourth loss in six games and their ninth shut-out of the season, giving GM Frank Wren food for thought ahead of Saturday’s trade deadline.  Wren had already sent slumping center-fielder, Nate McLouth to the minors earlier in the day.

Andrew Bracegirdle

27th July 2010