Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Citi Field hosts the Nats and Mets for the next three games.
As impressive as Atilano's first couple weeks in the big leagues have been, the real test for the rookie right-hander starts now. His first two times out, opponents really had no idea what they were dealing with. Now, the word has begun to spread. There's more video of Atilano facing big-league hitters, and everyone has a better idea how he tries to approach them.
Thus, don't be surprised if hitters start to adjust to him and perhaps enjoy a little more success. We saw glimpses of that the other night against the Braves, who strung together six runs against him. Now the onus is on Atilano to make the necessary adjustment. This is a crucial step in the process for every rookie pitcher. It's one thing to be successful your first couple of times out, when no one has a clue what you throw. It's quite another to be able to sustain it.
Tonight, we'll get a chance to see whether Atilano has what it takes to stick up here in the majors.
Check back for updates throughout...
NATIONALS AT METS
Where: Citi Field
Gametime: 7:10 p.m.
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM
Weather: Sunny, 58 degrees, Wind 16 mph in from LF
CF Nyjer Morgan
2B Adam Kennedy
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam Dunn
LF Josh Willingham
C Ivan Rodriguez
RF Roger Bernadina
SS Ian Desmond
P Luis Atilano
CF Angel Pagan
2B Luis Castillo
SS Jose Reyes
LF Jason Bay
3B David Wright
1B Ike Davis
RF Jeff Francoeur
C Rod Barajas
P John Maine
5:06 p.m. -- Tyler Clippard has become a media sensation. The Nats reliever held court with a half-dozen reporters this afternoon, several of them New Yorkers who are interesting to write about the former Yankee's success out of the bullpen. "Clip" remains friends with several of his old New York teammates, particularly outfielder Brett Gardner. Gardner texted him the other day, asking tongue-in-cheek if he leads the league in wins yet. Clippard plans to text him back today saying, as matter of fact, yes he does.
5:10 p.m. -- Meanwhile, Tyler Walker has switched uniforms numbers. He's dropped 25 and is going with 39 starting tonight. The reason? "My wife wanted me to get a 3 in my number," Walker said. "She thinks it's good luck." Considering his 5.51 ERA, perhaps he's in need of some new luck. "Twenty-five wasn't really working," he said.
5:13 p.m. -- I'll have more on this one in a little bit, but John Lannan threw in the bullpen today and said he felt "great," no problems whatsoever. He's been cleared to start Thursday night in Colorado. That sigh of relief you heard came straight out of the Nationals' clubhouse and front office.
7:12 p.m. -- And away we go on another chilly, windy night at Citi Field, with a strike from John Maine to Nyjer Morgan. Have the Nats ever played a good-weather game in Flushing? Seems like every time I'm here, it's either bitter cold or sweltering hot.
7:23 p.m. -- Boy, the Nats are going to regret not having scored there in the top of the first. When Nyjer Morgan and Adam Kennedy each get on base (and then successfully double steal, even if it appeared to be a blown call) you've got to bring at least one of them home. Unfortunately, Ryan Zimmerman smoked a line drive but right at Jeff Francoeur. And then Adam Dunn was caught looking at a 2-2 pitch and Josh Willingham whiffed at another 2-2 pitch. Big-time wasted opportunity there.
7:41 p.m. -- And likewise, the Mets are now kicking themselves for not scoring in the bottom of the first. Luis Atilano got into all kinds of trouble, allowing a leadoff single and then walking two. But he recorded all three outs via strikeout, getting Jose Reyes on a 1-2 changeup, David Wright on a 2-2 tailing fastball and Ike Davis on a 2-2 changeup. It took Atilano 31 pitches (15 strikes) to navigate his way through the frame, but the end result was a zero. Pretty eventful for a scoreless first inning.
7:49 p.m. -- Another opportunity wasted. Ivan Rodriguez leads off with a double and never advances beyond that as the bottom of the order comes up short. Roger Bernadina (owner of a .276 slugging percentage) hit a weak flyball to center field. Ian Desmond then took a page out of Adam Dunn's book by watching a 1-2 fastball whiz by. At least Atilano was able to foul off four straight 3-2 pitches before flying out. Perhaps Dunn and Desmond could take a lesson from Atilano on fouling off two-strike pitches. Couldn't hurt.
7:58 p.m. -- Guess Atilano won't be striking out 27 tonight. He's now on pace for only 23.
8:05 p.m. -- The way Adam Kennedy kept fouling off pitches from Maine, getting out in front and peppering the first-base stands, you couldn't help but think he was locked in on Maine. Sure enough, Kennedy finally put a pitch in play and sent it over the right-field fence for a solo homer. And moments later, Ryan Zimmerman hit a towering shot to left that might have reached the second deck if not for the stiff wind blowing in from that direction. So Zim had to settle for a mere pedestrian home run into the fifth row of the first deck. Nats now lead 2-0 in the third thanks to the back-to-back blasts.
8:24 p.m. -- Things are starting to settle down here, with both pitchers finding their groove. Atilano is no longer striking out every single batter he faces, but he's getting groundballs and a nice play from Josh Willingham to track down Jason Bay's ball down the left-field line. Maine, meanwhile, has retired four in a row. Still 2-0 Nats heading to the bottom of the fourth.
8:31 p.m. -- Atilano has now tossed four scoreless innings, allowing only two singles in the process. But his pitch count is already at 75. Which means he's probably only going one, maybe two more innings. Which means Jim Riggleman will need to get some quality work tonight from multiple relievers. I don't believe Tyler Clippard is available after throwing 2 1/3 innings the last two days. Matt Capps should be OK for the ninth, though this would be his third straight day of work. The best thing the Nats could do right now: Tack on some runs and give themselves a comfortable lead for a change.
8:37 p.m. -- Ryan Zimmerman has absolutely KILLED the ball three times tonight. But all he has to show for it is the third-inning homer. He's smoked two other line drives to right, both caught by Francoeur. Frenchy made a really nice play on that last one, a deep drive to the wall that Kennedy clearly didn't think would be caught. He was well around second base before slamming on the brakes, making for an easy double play at first.
8:48 p.m. -- Atilano now at 90 pitches through five scoreless innings. Send him back out for another?
8:52 p.m. -- No action in the Nats pen, so it looks like he will come back out. If the score holds up, I'm thinking Batista then pitches the seventh, Burnett the eighth and Capps the ninth. Long way to go still.
8:54 p.m. -- It's a shame Pudge Rodriguez doesn't have a few more at-bats, because he deserves to be listed as the NL's leading hitter. He's now 3-for-3 tonight, raising his average to .386. Unfortunately, he's only got 88 at-bats, and to qualify, he'll need 99 by the end of the night.
8:59 p.m. -- How 'bout this: Atilano notches his first career hit -- a two-out single up the middle that should have brought a run home. Unfortunately, Pudge was the guy on second. And though he somehow managed to steal second, he wasn't going to score on that sharp single. Dead meat at the plate: 8-2. So the Nats still cling to a 2-0 lead going to the bottom of the sixth.
9:06 p.m. -- That'll do it for Atilano. Allowed a pair of one-out singles in the sixth, and with the left-handed Ike Davis stepping to the plate, it'll be Doug Slaten making his Nats debut in a crucial spot.
9:10 p.m. -- Welcome to NatsTown, Doug. One pitch, two outs. Davis hits a soft liner to third, and Zimmerman makes a running catch, then fires to first to double up childhood buddy David Wright. The Nats escape the sixth, still leading 2-0.
9:37 p.m. -- Tyler Walker's debut as No. 39 turned out to be pretty sweet. Struck out Jose Reyes looking at a 3-2 slider on the inside corner. Not only did Walker get out of the jam, he also got Reyes and Jerry Manuel ejected for arguing. It's now 2-1, but the Nats are six outs from victory.
9:44 p.m. -- Just asking, but if Willy Taveras can't correctly read a base hit to left-center and has to hold up at third base ... what purpose exactly is he serving on this roster?
9:46 p.m. -- Willy T. is saved by Pudge. Rodriguez's FOURTH hit of the night scores Taveras from third and puts the Nats up 3-1. Pudge is now batting .393 for the season. Unreal.
9:53 p.m. -- So we go to the bottom of the eighth, the Nats clinging to a 2-run lead and Walker returning to the mound for another inning of setup work, trying to get the ball to Matt Capps.
10:05 p.m. -- If the events of the last 45 minutes or so aren't proof that Tyler Clippard is the Nats' MVP, I don't know what else it would take. (Send Tyler to Anaheim!)
10:11 p.m. -- Wow, that was about as tense an inning as the Nationals have had in some time. It took three relievers, but somehow Tyler Walker, Sean Burnett and Brian Bruney managed to do what Clippard usually does by himself. Bruney tried his best to blow it, uncorking a wild pitch to the backstop that put runners on second and third. But he settled down just enough to get Rod Barajas to pop out on a 3-2 pitch. After eight innings, the Nats still lead 3-1. Capps will have the ninth, looking for his 14th save in 14 tries, and amazingly his 14th save in 18 Nationals victories.
10:17 p.m. -- Well, forget about Capps. It appears he's unavailable as well. Miguel Batista currently warming up to pitch the ninth and go for his first save.
10:30 p.m. -- And it's not over yet. With one out in the ninth, Angel Pagan takes Batista deep. It's now 3-2.
10:35 p.m. -- How about that? Batista pitches the ninth and gets the save. Nats win 3-2, and all it took to record the final 11 outs were five different relievers (none of them named Tyler Clippard or Matt Capps). At 18-14, the Nationals are four games over .500 for the first time since Sept. 18, 2005. (That was the day after they blew a five-run, ninth-inning lead in San Diego that left Frank Robinson apologizing to his players for losing the game with his bullpen changes that disastrous inning.)