Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Craig Stammen rejoins the Nationals tonight to face Derek Lowe at Turner Field.
I suppose in one sense, it's comforting to know how much fans really do care about the Nationals. That's certainly better than the alternative. At the same time, some of the vitriol has been -- quite honestly -- ridiculous. (FYI: Ryan Zimmerman remains one of the best all-around third basemen in the game, Jim Riggleman's job is not in immediate jeopardy, Michael Morse has zero chance of becoming this team's starting shortstop and the answer to all of the Nats' woes is not Pete Orr or Justin Maxwell.)
You know what would calm everyone down, though? A Nationals win tonight. Doesn't matter how they do it, just that they do it. I have a hunch that would leave a lot of people (fans, media members and especially people inside the clubhouse) feeling a lot better about the situation.
There is actually some merit in that line of thinking. Jim Riggleman acknowledged last night he's concerned some players might be tightening up at crucial moments, especially in the field, perhaps worried more about messing something up than simply playing baseball the way they know how. One simple victory might just be the remedy to get everyone relaxed again.
Craig Stammen makes his return to the rotation tonight after posting good numbers in three starts at Class AAA Syracuse. He faces sinkerballer Derek Lowe, who struggled last year against the Nats (1-3, 5.06 ERA in six starts).
Your daily lineup changes: Ian Desmond is on the bench. Alberto Gonzalez starts at shortstop, his third straight start (he went 0-for-5 with four strikeouts the last two days, by the way). Cristian Guzman is back, playing second base but batting seventh. Roger Bernadina bats second and plays right field.
Check back for updates before, during and after the game...
NATIONALS at BRAVES
Where: Turner Field
Gametime: 7:10 p.m.
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM
Weather: Chance of showers, 85 degrees, Wind 5 mph out to RF
CF Nyjer Morgan
RF Roger Bernadina
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam Dunn
LF Josh Willingham
C Ivan Rodriguez
2B Cristian Guzman
SS Alberto Gonzalez
P Craig Stammen
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 Derek Lowe
5:32 p.m. -- Jim Riggleman, on giving Ian Desmond the night off: "I've got to get Gonzalez a few games. And Desi, give him a night off. Desi is going to be a special player here for the next 10 or 12 years. But Gonzalez is a part of this ballclub that I can't ignore. Today seems like a good day to do it for him, where I can have him back out there three days in a row so he has a chance to swing the bat, see some pitches and get some of the rust off him. It just felt like a good day to keep Gonzalez in the lineup somewhere."
7:10 p.m. -- Here we go. Derek Lowe starts Nyjer Morgan off with a ball. There are perhaps 25 percent as many fans here tonight as they were last night. What gives? Doesn't Atlanta have Stammen Fever?
7:17 p.m. -- No complaints about Nyjer in the top of the first. He singled and took second on Ryan Zimmerman's groundout. But the leadoff man was stranded at second when Adam Dunn couldn't beat out a slow roller to the right-side hole, fielded by shortstop Yunel Escobar (who was playing the shift on the big man). If you were wondering: Dunn is now 2-for-33 this season with two outs and runners in scoring position.
7:26 p.m. -- Very nice start for Craig Stammen. He retired the side. More importantly, he got three groundball outs. That's the pitcher he's supposed to be. We're scoreless through one.
7:40 p.m. -- Stammen couldn't come through with a clutch hit in the top of the second (he struck out with two outs and two on) but he sure looks impressive on the mound so far. Six batters up, six batters down. The Braves haven't hit a ball out of the infield yet.
7:51 p.m. -- Really, Nyjer? Really? Overrunning a base hit to center and turning it into a triple? Can't you give everyone reason to lay off you for one night? Apparently not. Braves lead 1-0 after three.
8:29 p.m. -- Wow, how about that? A string of clutch hits gives the Nats a 3-1 lead. Nyjer Morgan makes up for that fielding gaffe by stroking an RBI single to left. Two batters later, Ryan Zimmerman drops a two-run double down the right-field line, scoring Gonzalez and Morgan. It's an offensive explosion! Nats lead 3-1 in the bottom of the fifth.
8:52 p.m. -- The big hits keep on coming. Alberto Gonzalez singles home Willingham in the sixth to make it 4-1 and make Gonzalez 3-for-3 tonight. Derek Lowe is out of the game. Stammen continues to cruise and now takes the mound for the bottom of the sixth holding a three-run lead.
9:00 p.m. -- Really impressive return to the majors for Stammen, who has now thrown six innings of one-run, three-hit ball. He's still only at 72 pitches. Nats still lead 4-1 through six.
9:13 p.m. -- The Hammer strikes and pads the lead. Josh Willingham crushes a pitch from sidewinder Peter Moylan to left-center, a two-run blast that puts the Nationals up 6-1 in the seventh. Can this team now record nine outs without allowing five runs to score?
9:22 p.m. -- Amazing stat of the night: Willingham's homer was the first "outside the park" homer allowed by Moylan since Ryan Zimmerman's walk-off to christen Nationals Park in 2008. He did give up an inside-the-parker in between, and he missed most of that 2008 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Still, pretty amazing. (Thanks to Carroll Rogers of the Atlanta Journal Constitution for digging up that fact.)
9:26 p.m. -- You know it's been a good night when Cristian Guzman has reached base three times without recording a hit. He's been walked, intentionally walked and hit by a pitch.
9:29 p.m. -- You also know it's been a good night when Alberto Gonzalez is 4-for-4. Third time in his career he's had a four-hit game.
9:38 p.m. -- And Stammen takes the mound for the eighth inning sitting on 83 pitches.
9:48 p.m. -- And Stammen can't make it through the eighth. Back-to-back doubles with one out end his evening. Still pretty impressive. His final line: 7.1 ip, 5 h, 2 er, 2 bb, 4 k. Sean Burnett now pitching with the Nats up 7-2.
10:09 p.m. -- All is well in NatsTown again. They've won a ballgame. Final score: 7-2. Huge sighs of relief emanating from the visitors' dugout at Turner Field.