Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Stephen Strasburg is playing tonight at Turner Field. Jason Heyward is not.
So Strasburg will have to carry the show on his own. Shouldn't be a problem, since he's managed to carry the show on his own four times already in the last three weeks. Once again, a national TV network has picked up this game (ESPN2). And once again, you won't be able to watch that telecast in the D.C. area. It's Bob and Rob on MASN or Charlie and Dave on 1500 AM.
As has also been the case four out of the five times Strasburg has pitched, the Nationals will be asking their young ace to stop a losing streak. The pressure might be even greater tonight given the hideous weekend sweep in Baltimore.
Facing a very tough right-hander in Tim Hudson, Jim Riggleman is going with a slightly tweaked lineup. Ivan Rodriguez gets bumped up to the 2-hole. Also, Alberto Gonzalez starts at second base.
Check back for updates before, during and after the game...
NATIONALS at BRAVES
Where: Turner Field
Gametime: 7:10 p.m.
TV: MASN, ESPN2 (outside D.C. area)
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM
Weather: Partly cloudy, 87 degrees, Wind 8 mph out to CF
CF Nyjer Morgan
C Ivan Rodriguez
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam Dunn
LF Josh Willingham
RF Roger Bernadina
SS Ian Desmond
2B Alberto Gonzalez
P Stephen Strasburg
2B Martin Prado
RF Melky Cabrera
3B Chipper Jones
C Brian McCann
1B Troy Glaus
LF Eric Hinske
SS Yunel Escobar
CF Gregor Blanco
P Tim Hudson
4:55 p.m. -- Jim Riggleman is holding a closed-door team meeting with his players right now.
5:06 p.m. -- Oh, and by the way, it's official: Craig Stammen will start tomorrow night's game. He's on his way from Syracuse to Atlanta as we speak. The Nats will have to remove someone from the roster following tonight's game, most likely a reliever. The two strongest candidates would appear to be Joel Peralta and Tyler Walker.
6:03 p.m. -- As for Rodriguez hitting second tonight and Guzman not being in the lineup, Riggleman said it was a combination of liking Pudge in the 2-hole and Guzman still being bothered a bit by the stiff neck that kept him out of yesterday's game. "We're just trying to move it around a little bit, trying to find something that helps us work throughout the ballgame," the manager said. "See if we can find a nice flow in the lineup and see if we can win a ballgame here."
7:02 p.m. -- It's looking like a good crowd here at Turner Field, though nowhere close to a sellout. Upper deck is maybe half-full.
7:11 p.m. -- And with a fastball for strike one from Tim Hudson to Nyjer Morgan, we are underway.
7:20 p.m. -- So the Nats managed to put their first two batters of the night on base. And yet Hudson still only faced the minimum. How? Well, that's what happens when Nyjer Morgan (after reaching on an error) gets picked off (replays showed he was probably safe, but still). And even after Ivan Rodriguez drew a walk during a nice, nine-pitch at-bat, Ryan Zimmerman grounded into a 6-4-3 double play, ending the inning with nothing across. Stephen Strasburg now taking the mound.
7:23 p.m. -- Well, that was an interesting first inning. The Braves sent four batters to the plate, and every one of them hit the ball hard to the left side of the field. Two of them picked up hits (Cabrera doubled and McCann singled). But nobody scored, thanks in large part to Willingham, who made a nice throw to the plate to nail Cabrera and end the inning. Nine pitches for Strasburg, six of them strikes. But like I said, four of them were hit hard.
7:38 p.m. -- Tim Hudson hasn't allowed much of anything yet, but he's sure had to work for it. He's thrown 38 pitches (plus a bunch of pickoffs) in two innings. Bernadina did come through with a two-out single -- he's really starting to hit more consistently -- but Desmond struck out to end the frame. Still scoreless heading to the bottom of the second.
7:53 p.m. -- The scoreboard shows zeroes in the Braves' column, but Strasburg has not been sharp yet. Issued his first walk in 15 days (a four-pitch free pass to Glaus) and at one point threw six straight balls. The Braves also seem to be on his fastball a bit. Strasburg has been more effective with his changeup, and got Blanco to ground into an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play to save himself in the second. Scoreless through two. He's thrown 25 pitches, only 13 strikes.
7:58 p.m. -- Hudson retires the side in the third. Nothing doing from Gonzalez, Strasburg or Morgan. Strasburg's back out on the mound really quick after that groundball out.
8:05 p.m. -- Real quick and clean third inning for Strasburg. It featured his first 100 mph fastball of the game, three groundball outs and only 10 pitches. Through three, he's allowed three hits and a walk and only has one strikeout. But 35 pitches, 20 of them strikes. Still scoreless through three.
8:25 p.m. -- Strasburg has been in trouble several times tonight, but he's finding a way to pitch out of it, thanks in part to a devastating changeup. He's induced two inning-ending double plays on that pitch through four innings. Still scoreless here. Once again, Strasburg getting no run support.
8:44 p.m. -- Strasburg's really cooking now. He just struck out the side in the fifth, blowing away Hinske with a 99 mph fastball, Escobar with a 90 mph changeup and catching Blanco looking at a 97 mph heater. Through five scoreless innings, he's allowed four hits and a walk while striking out five. Only 61 pitches (37 strikes). Now, if the Nats could only score him a run for the first time in his last 12 innings on the mound.
8:55 p.m. -- Bad news: The Nats have four hits (and no runs) through six innings. Good news: Hudson has already thrown 102 pitches.
9:03 p.m. -- Man, when Strasburg gets on a roll, he gets on a ROLL. He's retired eight in a row in the following manner: K, 5-4-3, K, K, K, K, K, 3-1. Hit 99 mph a couple of times in the sixth. He's only three strikeouts away from Herb Score's record of 50 strikeouts in his first five career games. And at only 73 pitches, he's in good shape to pitch the seventh.
9:10 p.m. -- Golden opportunity there for the Nats in the seventh. Bernadina led off with a double, then took third on a bunt by Desmond. But Gonzalez struck out for the third time today, leaving Riggleman to decide whether to pinch-hit for Strasburg or not. He wound up pulling Adam Kennedy back and let the kid hit. Groundout to short. Inning over. We're still scoreless at the seventh-inning stretch.
9:25 p.m. -- Tonight's paid attendance: 42,889. That includes 9,601 purchased today, and 21,608 purchased since Strasburg made his last start five days ago. The kid sells.
9:42 p.m. -- Well, that all fell apart quickly and in embarrassing fashion. Strasburg nearly got himself out of a jam, but Ian Desmond booted a double play grounder for his 19th error of the season (far and away the most in the majors). A sac fly brought home the night's first run. Worse, Nyjer Morgan made a terrible decision to throw to third, allowing the trailing runner to advance. That proved costly, because both men wound up scoring, plus another, thanks to some hard-hit-but-bobbled grounders. All of a sudden, it's 5-0 Braves, the Nats are right back into their shoot-themselves-in-the-foot mode and Strasburg is about to be handed his second career loss. His final line: 6 1/3 innings, 6 hits, 4 runs (3 earned), 2 walks, 7 strikeouts. For the season, he's almost certain to be 2-2 with a 2.27 ERA.
9:56 p.m. -- I would love to know what the ratings were on MASN and ESPN2 at 9:20 tonight. And then I'd love to know what they were at 9:30. I have a feeling a couple of TVs across America switched channels during that stretch.
10:07 p.m. -- That's it. It's over. Nats lose 5-0. Fifth straight loss, each one more agonizing than the previous. Plenty of postgame reaction to come.