Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
The Nats try to avoid a sweep today at sweltering Camden Yards.
Anyways, inside this cauldron of sweat the Nationals will attempt to avoid an indignity unlike any other they've experienced this season: A sweep at the hands of the Orioles. Losing three of four to the Astros was bad. Losing two of three to the Indians was really bad. Getting swept by the Orioles would be humiliating.
After blowing leads of 6-0 and 5-0 the last two days, perhaps the Nats will try a new strategy today: Get behind early and then really to win. Even better, perhaps they'll simply hold a large lead for a change. (I know, it's a novel concept.)
Today's lineup shuffle: Adam Dunn is DH'ing, so Michael Morse starts at first base. The big surprise: Alberto Gonzalez makes only his ninth start of the season, his first at shortstop. Seems like a good time for a day off for Ian Desmond, who has just three hits in his last 34 at-bats and has seen his batting average plummet from .276 to .249.
I'm back at the park today, so check back for updates before, during and after the game...
NATIONALS at ORIOLES
Where: Camden Yards
Gametime: 1:35 p.m.
TV: Ch. 50-HD, MASN-HD (Nats pregame and postgame shows on MASN2)
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM
Weather: Partly cloudy, 94 degrees, Wind 10 mph out to CF
(UPDATED WITH KENNEDY REPLACING GUZMAN)
CF Nyjer Morgan
2B Adam Kennedy
3B Ryan Zimmerman
DH Adam Dunn
LF Josh Willingham
RF Roger Bernadina
1B Michael Morse
SS Alberto Gonzalez
C Wil Nieves
(P Luis Atilano)
LF Corey Patterson
3B Miguel Tejada
RF Nick Markakis
1B Ty Wigginton
DH Luke Scott
CF Adam Jones
C Matt Wieters
2B Scott Moore
SS Julio Lugo
(P Jeremy Guthrie)
11:45 a.m. -- Lineup change: Cristian Guzman woke up with a stiff neck this morning, so he's been scratched. Adam Kennedy takes over at second base and batting second. Jim Riggleman said he doesn't believe the neck issue is serious and believes Guzman will be back in the lineup tomorrow in Atlanta.
11:47 a.m. -- Meanwhile, big news from the Orioles' clubhouse: Garrett Atkins has been designated for assignment. Given a $4.5 million contract over the winter, the first baseman hit .214 with one homer and nine RBI in 44 games. Right-hander Koji Uehara has been activated off the 15-day DL to take Atkins' roster spot.
1:37 p.m. -- And we are underway with a strike from Jeremy Guthrie to Nyjer Morgan. 94 steamy degrees at first pitch.
1:39 p.m. -- It took Guthrie all of eight pitches to retire the side in the top of the first. Caught Morgan looking at an 0-2 fastball, then got Adam Kennedy to hit a soft liner to center and Ryan Zimmerman to fly out to left.
1:45 p.m. -- How about a mirror-image bottom of the first from Luis Atilano? Also retired the side on eight pitches, six strikes. Two flyouts to center, one flyout to left. Good start for the rookie right-hander, who is attempting to earn his seventh win of the season (tops among all Nats starters).
2:11 p.m. -- The Nats have made Guthrie work a bit over the last two innings, drawing three walks. They still don't have a hit and haven't advanced a runner past first base, but at least Guthrie has already thrown 52 pitches through three (pretty amazing considering he only threw eight in the first inning). Heading to the bottom of the third, no score, no hits from either team.
2:23 p.m. -- Well, well, well. What do we have here? Three innings in the books, and nary a hit surrendered yet by Atilano or Guthrie. Atilano hasn't allowed anyone to reach base, striking out three through three. Very interesting...
2:30 p.m. -- Well, I apparently just jinxed it for Guthrie, cause the Nats have exploded for three runs in the fourth. Zimmerman led off with a walk, then after Adam Dunn struck out, Josh Willingham lined a triple past a frozen Adam Jones in center field. First hit of the day for the Nats produced the first run of the day. Moments later, Roger Bernadina tattooed a 1-0 pitch from Guthrie into the left-field bleachers, an opposite-field blast that has put the Nats up 3-0. Now, let's see if they can actually hold a lead today.
2:40 p.m. -- Miguel Tejada records the Orioles' first hit of the day off Atilano ... and then proceeds to get thrown out trying to stretch it into a double. Nice play and throw by Bernadina, who really has been solid in right field. Atilano's no-hit bid is over, but he has still faced the minimum over four innings.
2:57 p.m. -- Hmm, where have we seen this before? Up 3-0 in the fifth, Atilano proceeded to allow four straight hits, trimming the lead to 3-2. Then Adam Kennedy threw wild trying to turn a double play, allowing another run (this time unearned) to score and leaving the game tied 3-3 after five innings. I mean, seriously, are these guys just playing by a pre-written script or what?
3:10 p.m. -- I think the Nationals could plug in Bill Mazeroski at second base and he'd still commit a throwing error within five innings.
3:12 p.m. -- Atilano bounced back with a 1-2-3 sixth, so he still ends up with a quality start (three runs, two earned, in six innings). But unless the Nats score in the top of the seventh, he'll get a no-decision. (This is all assuming Atilano doesn't return, which I think is a safe bet.) Still 3-3 here at the sauna.
3:24 p.m. -- I take it back. Atilano remains in the game for the seventh. Nats have to hope he's still got something left. It's currently 98 degrees (heat index 102) in downtown Baltimore.
3:27 p.m. -- Wow, nice job by the rookie. Retires the side in the seventh, completing a solid afternoon. Things kind of fell apart there in the fifth, but otherwise Atilano was fantastic. Final pitching line: 7 ip, 5 h, 3 r, 2 er, 0 bb, 3 k. It's still 3-3 headed to the eighth.
3:40 p.m. -- Do these guys have any concept how to manufacture a run anymore? Two on, nobody out in the eighth inning of a tie game. So what happens? Dunn strikes out on three pitches. Willingham strikes out on three pitches. Bernadina strikes out on three pitches. Unbelievable.
3:54 p.m. -- The Nats can't help but give the Orioles a late lead even when Baltimore tries everything in its power to beat itself. When Julio Lugo inexplicably got picked off second base for the second out of the eighth, all seemed fine in NatsTown. Think again. Tyler Clippard, after getting squeezed on a 2-2 curveball, watched as Corey Patterson tagged his next pitch down the right-field line for a double. Miguel Tejada followed with a sharp single up the middle, and Nyjer Morgan's throw to the plate was way too late to get Patterson. Even worse, Tejada took second when no one was covering second. Adam Kennedy was over near first base for some reason. I have no idea why. So it's 4-3 Orioles after eight, and the Nats are three outs from suffering a third straight loss here, having held at least a three-run lead in each game.
4:07 p.m. -- A terrible weekend of baseball for the Nationals is over. They lose this one 4-3, completing a three-game sweep at the hands of the worst team in the majors. All three losses came by one run. All three came after blowing a comfortable lead. Easily the worst 72-hour stretch of the season for the Nats.