Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
The Nats open a big, three-game series against the Braves tonight.
Yes, it's been awhile since D.C. has hosted anything along these lines, with the first-place Nationals trying to hold off the second-place Braves over the next three nights and perhaps extend their five-game lead to even greater numbers.
We've got a great pitching matchup to kick this series off: Jordan Zimmermann starts for the Nats against Braves ace Tim Hudson. All the healthy regulars are in both teams' lineups. All that's left to do is play the games.
Check back here, of course, for updates and analysis throughout...
ATLANTA BRAVES at WASHINGTON NATIONALS
Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN, MLB.tv
Radio: WJFK (106.7 FM), WFED (1500 AM), XM 183
Weather: Mostly cloudy, 75 degrees, Wind 3 mph in from LF
RF Jayson Werth
CF Bryce Harper
3B Ryan Zimmerman
LF Michael Morse
1B Adam LaRoche
SS Ian Desmond
2B Danny Espinosa
C Kurt Suzuki
RHP Jordan Zimmermann
CF Michael Bourn
LF Martin Prado
RF Jason Heyward
3B Chipper Jnes
1B Freddie Freeman
2B Dan Uggla
C Brian McCann
SS Paul Janish
RHP Tim Hudson
HP Doug Eddings
1B Kerwin Danley
2B Paul Nauert
3B Dana DeMith (cc)
6:38 p.m. -- Uh-oh, the tarp is being rolled out over the infield as we speak, and there are ominous-looking clouds approaching from the west. It would certainly appear unlikely this game will begin on-time.
7:05 p.m. -- And we're officially in a rain delay. Looks like it'll just be one heavy line of storms passing through, and then that should be it. In the meantime, if you haven't seen it, here's the updated story on Lucas Giolito, who Mike Rizzo acknowledges may need Tommy John surgery.
7:35 p.m. -- Update: The game will start at 8 p.m.
8:01 p.m. -- And we're underway after a 56-minute delay. Much smaller crowd than we had over the weekend -- the place is probably half-full -- but it's a plenty boisterous group nonetheless.
8:14 p.m. -- Well, that wasn't what the Nats or Jordan Zimmermann had in mind. At the same time, it could've been worse. A lot worse. A Martin Prado double followed by a Jason Heyward single put the Braves up 1-0. And when Zimmermann walked Chipper Jones, the right-hander appeared to be in a world of trouble. Then salvation came from an unexpected source: Kurt Suzuki. Heyward tried to steal third base -- something you expected the Braves to do a lot of in this series -- but Suzuki gunned him down with a perfect throw. Zimmermann then got Freddie Freeman to fly out and end the top of the first with only one run across the plate. Could've been much, much worse.
8:31 p.m. -- So much for the Nats having to dig themselves out of an early hole. They just put up a 4-spot in the bottom of the first. Mercy. Jayson Werth led off with a double to left, then scored moments later on Bryce Harper's opposite-field single. Ryan Zimmerman lined a base hit to right. Michael Morse then smoked a comebacker that would've gone through for a hit had it not deflected off Hudson's pitching hand and right to shortstop Paul Janish. The Braves trainer came out to check on Hudson, but he apparently was fine to continue. Not that he pitched like it. Adam LaRoche battled his way through a great at-bat before finally tapping an RBI groundout to first. And then the big blast: Ian Desmond destroyed the first pitch he saw from Hudson, launching it into the left-field bleachers for a 2-run homer that left this place rocking. It was Desmond's first hit in 12 at-bats since coming off the DL. Guess he's got his timing back now. The Nats lead 4-1 after a wild first inning.
8:46 p.m. -- Another walk for Werth, who has reached in both plate appearances so far tonight. It's remarkable how productive he's been since coming back from the DL himself at the start of the month. Onto to the third inning, the Nats still up 4-1.
8:59 p.m. -- Desmond rips another ball, though this one was on the ground and snagged by Dan Uggla to start a 4-6-3 double play that ended the bottom of the third. The Nats have put seven men on base already against Hudson and still lead 4-1 after three.
9:14 p.m. -- No doubt about it, Zimmermann is laboring tonight. He's needed 83 pitches just to get through four innings, which means he may only have one left. He's made pitches when he really needs to for the most part, though he just gave up a run in the fourth when Espinosa couldn't quite make a backhanded snag of Janish's low line drive that would've ended the inning. So it's 4-2 as we move to the fifth and the Nats face the prospect of using a lot of relievers to get through this one.
9:31 p.m. -- And this game is tied again after Heyward tattoos a 92 mph fastball from Zimmermann into the right-field bullpen, a two-run shot. Zimmermann finished out the inning, but that'll be it for him. Perhaps his least-effective start of the season: 5 IP, 8 H, 4 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 102 pitches. It's 4-4 in the middle of the fifth.
9:37 p.m. -- Meanwhile, the Nats have only one hit since Desmond's homer in the first. They had Hudson dazed and searching for the ropes but weren't able to deliver the knockout punch. So now it's onto the sixth inning, with Tom Gorzelanny in to pitch in relief of Zimmermann (who cannot get the decision).
10:05 p.m. -- Really poor execution by the bottom of the Nats lineup in the bottom of the sixth. They had two on with nobody out after LaRoche singled and Desmond walked. But Espinosa struck out swinging at a 2-2 changeup, Suzuki lined out to center and then pinch-hitter Roger Bernadina swung at a pitch up at his eyelids for strike two and then took the next pitch for strike three. So it remains 4-4 as we move to the seventh. Ryan Mattheus now in for the Nats, Tim Hudson still pitching for the Braves.
10:28 p.m. -- Wow, another wasted opportunity for the Nats after Werth led off the seventh with a cue shot off third base for a gift double. Fredi Gonzalez had to turn to lefty Jonny Venters to face Harper in a huge spot, but Harper was asked to drop a bunt (he missed the sign on the first pitch, then barely got it down after that). So now with the go-ahead runner on third, Venters intentionally walked Zimmerman. That set the stage for Morse ... who immediately grounded into a 6-4-3 double play on the very first pitch he saw. Crushing. Onto the eighth, still 4-4.
10:43 p.m. -- Man, the Nats bullpen has been teetering on a tightrope tonight. Five walks issued in three innings, yet they have avoided giving up a run. Drew Storen somehow navigated his way through the top of the eighth. So it remains 4-4 and we are in serious crunch time now.
10:49 p.m. -- Tonight's official paid attendance: 21,298. I know it's rainy Monday night and all, but, really guys?
10:59 p.m. -- Another golden opportunity for the Nats in the bottom of the eighth: Bases loaded, one out. Davey Johnson showed faith in Tyler Moore to pinch-hit against lefty Eric O'Flaherty, but the rookie popped out on an 0-1 pitch for the second out. That left it in the hands of Werth, who got ahead 2-0, then 3-1, then fouled off a couple of fastballs, then with the crowd roaring sent a deep fly ball to left field that was ... caught at the warning track. Onto the ninth, still 4-4. Sean Burnett in to face the heart of the Braves' lineup.
11:10 p.m. -- Burnett strands two men on in the top of the ninth. Onto the bottom, with Harper, Zimmerman and Morse due up to face Chad Durbin.
11:16 p.m. -- Nope, no big rally in the ninth for the Nats as Durbin retires the side on eight pitches. So we're going extras here, still 4-4, as Tyler Clippard enters from the bullpen.
11:25 p.m. -- Clippard sets em down in order in the top of the 10th. So it's LaRoche, Desmond and Espinosa in the bottom of the inning against lefty Luis Avilan.
11:33 p.m. -- Nope. Onto the 11th. Michael Gonzalez is in to pitch, which leaves only Craig Stammen left in the pen. With Stephen Strasburg starting tomorrow, that's not a good position for the Nats to be in.
11:42 p.m. -- Man, how many times can the Nats bullpen strand runners in scoring position? They've been remarkable at it tonight, and they keep giving their lineup a chance because of it. Onto the bottom of the 11th. Avilan still in for the Braves. Suzuki, a pinch-hitter and Werth due up.
11:56 p.m. -- Steve Lombardozzi hadn't seen a live pitch since Wednesday. And comes off the bench in the bottom of the 11th to stroke a single to left. Remarkable. Werth then got ahead 3-0, fouled off six straight pitches and then sent a fly ball to deep right field that was ... caught right at the fence by Heyward. Harper then struck out with a bad-looking swing at a breaking ball and destroyed his bat in response. So it's onto the 12th, and here's Craig Stammen, the last man out of the Nats bullpen.
12:03 a.m. -- Stammen gets the job done in the top of the 12th. Now it's Zimmerman, Morse and LaRoche against Cristhian Martinez.
12:14 a.m. -- Onto the 13th! Here's the crazy thing: The Pirates and Cardinals yesterday still had SEVEN more innings to play from this point on!
12:18 a.m. -- Another scoreless inning for Stammen, who is well-suited to pitch this kind of game. Looks like Edwin Jackson is in the bullpen starting to loosen up just in case. He threw 103 pitches two days ago.
12:29 a.m. -- Wow, what a crazy finish. Espinosa goes first to third on an infield single by Suzuki. Then Chad Tracy hits a hard grounder right to Uggla, who had Espinosa DOA at the plate. Except he couldn't get the ball out of his glove. The Nats win 5-4 in 13 innings and take a 6-game lead in the NL East.