Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
The sun is out and the Nats and Astros will open their series tonight.
Tom Milone makes his second career start, hoping to build off the good things he did in his debut last week (three scoreless innings to begin the night, not to mention a home run on the first big-league pitch he ever faced as a batter) while avoiding the big four-run inning that did him in.
Milone will have plenty of familiar faces behind him. Former Syracuse teammates Chris Marrero and Steve Lombardozzi are in the lineup, with Lombardozzi making his first start at shortstop and leading off in place of Ian Desmond. Right-hander Bud Norris starts for the Astros, owners of baseball's worst record.
I'm back at the ballpark and back on the beat through the rest of the season, so please check back often for plenty of updates...
ASTROS at NATIONALS
Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m.
Radio: WJFK (106.7 FM), WFED (1500 AM), XM 188
Weather: Partly cloudy, 76 degrees, Wind 3 mph RF to LF
STARTING LINEUPS6:37 p.m. -- Pregame injury news: Astros left-hander Sergio Escalona sprained his ankle during batting practice when he stepped on a glove and went down in a heap. They had to cart him off the field in a little mini-ambulance, and he was due to have X-rays taken.
SS Steve Lombardozzi
RF Rick Ankiel
3B Ryan Zimmerman
LF Michael Morse
CF Jayson Werth
2B Danny Espinosa
1B Chris Marrero
C Wilson Ramos
P Tom Milone
CF Jordan Schafer
2B Jose Altuve
RF Jason Bourgeois
1B Carlos Lee
LF J.D. Martinez
3B Chris Johnson
SS Clint Barmes
C Humberto Quintero
P Bud Norris
7:07 p.m. -- And we're underway with a strike from Tom (or is it Tommy?) Milone to Jordan Schafer. Very small gathering here at the park at first pitch.
7:11 p.m. -- Nice top of the first for Milone. He struck out Schafer on a 74 mph curveball, then got Jose Altuve to fly out to center and Jason Bourgeois to pop out to first. 9 of 13 pitches for strikes. This is the first time I've seen him pitch. My initial impression: He works fast, throws strikes and changes speeds. Ray Miller would be proud.
7:17 p.m. -- You know, they should really think about renaming the front section of the Red Porch "Zim's Porch." Ryan Zimmerman has found those seats countless times over the years, and he just did it again in the bottom of the first, crushing a 1-1 pitch from Bud Norris for a two-run shot. That gives Zim 11 homers in 84 games this season, not quite a pace he's been used to in the past but still respectable. Nats lead 2-0 early.
7:28 p.m. -- Two innings in the books, six batters faced, six batters retired for Milone. He's thrown only 23 pitches (15 strikes) and he really seems to mix things up, rarely throwing the same pitch twice in a row. It's early, but so far, I'm impressed.
7:36 p.m. -- Here's what I really was looking forward to seeing tonight: Milone at the plate! And then he struck out with an ugly swing on a 2-2 pitch from Norris. I'm crushed. Then again, it's worth noting that in three plate appearances, Milone already has produced more RBI (3) than Matt Stairs, Brian Bixler or Jesus Flores. Nats still lead 2-0 after two.
7:47 p.m. -- The Astros picked up a run in the top of the third thanks to Clint Barmes' leadoff ground-rule double to left (a ball that might have been caught by some left fielders). He came around to score on a groundball and then a sac fly, but I was again impressed with Milone's approach this inning. He's not afraid to come inside on right-handed hitters, and indeed sawed off Humberto Quintero's bat with one inside fastball. It's proof you don't have to throw 95 mph to be able to do that. Imagine if Ross Detwiler (who can throw 95 on occasion) would come inside a little more. It's now 2-1 Nats going to the bottom of the third.
8:06 p.m. -- Make it a 2-2 game in the middle of the fourth after Milone gives up another run. Nothing really hard-hit, but he loaded the bases on a couple of singles and a hit batter. Chris Johnson's sac fly then brought the lead runner home to tie the game up. On the bright side, Milone battled to strike out Barmes to end the inning and strand the go-ahead runner on third.
8:26 p.m. -- The kid keeps on battling. He put himself in a jam in the top of the fifth, with runners on second and third and only one out. But he got Jose Altuve to pop out after taking a huge hack at an 88 mph fastball earlier in the at-bat. (If Altuve is going to swing that hard at Milone's stuff, I can't wait to see what he does against Stephen Strasburg on Sunday.) Jason Bourgeois, meanwhile, roped a hard grounder that appeared headed right for Lombardozzi, except Jordan Schafer got in the way and the ball smacked him in the leg. That's a base hit for Bourgeois, but Schafer is out to end the inning with the score still 2-2. The Nats, by the way, don't have a hit since Morse's first-inning single. Where have we seen this storyline before?
8:45 p.m. -- And that'll do it for Milone, who can't get out of the sixth. In his defense, he wasn't helped by Michael Morse, who looked totally uncomfortable trying to gauge Carlos Lee's inning-opening drive to deep left. Not saying Morse should have caught it, but he certainly should have put forth a better attempt at it. That set the stage for Barmes' RBI single past a leaping Lombardozzi, ending Milone's night. The Nats now trail 3-2 heading to the bottom of the sixth.
8:53 p.m. -- Uh, Rick Ankiel, what exactly were you doing just there? When you're on first base and there are less than two outs and your teammate hits a fly ball to shallow left field, you go halfway to second, not seven-eighths of the way. Bad baserunning results in a bad 7-3 double play. Still 3-2 Astros after six.
9:16 p.m. -- We've been waiting to see Chris Marrero flash his power. Well, he just did, and he did it in a big spot. With the tying run on third and one out in the seventh, Marrero fouled off several 3-2 pitches from Norris, then roped a double to deep left-center to score Espinosa. That put the Nats in prime position to take the lead, except Ramos hit a fly ball to right and pinch-hitter Laynce Nix popped out the first pitch he saw to end the inning, with Norris now at 116 pitches.
9:21 p.m. -- By the way, the Nats just announced enhanced security plans for the weekend. Be prepared for fewer gates to be open at the park, extra security checks and no outside liquids allowed inside the stadium.
9:27 p.m. -- Nice job by Henry Rodriguez to pitch his way out of a jam in the top of the eighth. Man on third, one out and he blew away J.D. Martinez with a 100 mph fastball at the knees, then got Johnson to line out to center. We go to the bottom of the eighth, the game still tied 3-3.
9:34 p.m. -- For the second straight day, Drew Storen will enter for the bottom of the ninth of a tie game. He gave up three runs yesterday. Let's see what happens here.
9:43 p.m. -- Very nice job by Storen. Though he let Barmes reach on a strikeout-wild pitch, he more than made up for it with a nifty 1-4 double play on a popped-up bunt attempt. A strikeout of Brett Wallace ended the inning and sends us to the bottom of the ninth, still tied 3-3. Morse, Werth and Espinosa due up for the Nats against right-hander Enerio del Rosario.
9:48 p.m. -- Extra innings, here we come after the Nats go down in order in the bottom of the ninth. Tyler Clippard will pitch, and Ian Desmond has entered to play shortstop, with Lombardozzi shifting to second base and Espinosa coming out of the game.
9:55 p.m. -- Clippard mows 'em down in the top of the 10th. Chris Marrero to lead off the bottom of the inning. You know what would be nice right now? Marrero's first career home run.
10:06 p.m. -- Steve Lombardozzi is now 0-for-10 as a big-leaguer. And this game is now heading to the 11th inning.
10:15 p.m. -- Another clean inning for Clippard, giving the Nats' bullpen 5 1/3 scoreless innings in this game. Now, if only their teammates could reward the relievers for the effort. Bottom of the 11th ahead.
10:32 p.m. -- Nats win. Nats win. With two on and one out in the 11th, Jayson Werth hit a sharp grounder toward third. Jimmy Paredes (who just entered to play third base for the Astros) tried to throw late to second and fired the ball into right field. Ryan Zimmerman scored and the Nats won 4-3 in 11.