|Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER|
Stephen Strasburg takes the mound for the series opener, hoping to continue his dominance of the Braves this season — he's got a 1.93 ERA in three starts — but hoping to earn his first win over Atlanta. He'll be opposed by left-hander Mike Minor, who has a 5.06 ERA in three starts against the Nats, yet is 2-0.
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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), XM 183
Weather: Partly cloudy, 77 degrees, Wind 7 mph out to LF
CF Bryce Harper
SS Ian Desmond
3B Ryan Zimmerman
RF Jayson WerthC Wilson Ramos
1B Adam LaRoche
2B Anthony Rendon
LF Steve Lombardozzi
RF Scott Hairston
RHP Stephen Strasburg
RF Jason Heyward
LF Justin Upton
1B Freddie Freeman
C Brian McCann
3B Chris Johnson
2B Dan Uggla
CF B.J. Upton
SS Andrelton Simmons
LHP Mike Minor
HP Rob Drake
1B Joe West (cc)
2B Sam Holbrook
3B Adam Hamari
5:00 p.m. — Lineup change for the Nats: Jayson Werth was initially hitting cleanup, but he has been scratched. Probably due to a groin strain that has been bothering him for a couple of days. So Wilson Ramos will now hit cleanup, with Steve Lombardozzi in left field and Scott Hairston shifting to right field. Werth, incidentally, was just named NL Player of the Month for July. An unfortunate time for him to miss a game due to injury.
7:07 p.m. — And we're underway with a 94 mph fastball from Stephen Strasburg to Jason Heyward, which is promptly fouled off. It's 77 degrees at gametime, absolutely gorgeous for August in D.C.
7:18 p.m. — This one didn't exactly start the way the Nationals hoped, with Adam LaRoche bobbling Jason Heyward's routine grounder to first for an error. But Strasburg's response to that mistake behind him was quite telling. He merely struck out the side, getting Justin Upton to whiff at a curveball, Freddie Freeman to whiff at a changeup and Brian McCann to whiff at a curveball. That's fairly impressive stuff right there.
7:29 p.m. — Well, there you go, a little two-out thunder from the heart of the Nats lineup. Wilson Ramos delivered a base hit to right-center, moving Ian Desmond (who earlier drew a walk) to third base and bringing up LaRoche in a big spot. And the veteran first baseman continued his recent hot stretch, blasting an RBI double to right-center, scoring Desmond to give the Nats an early 1-0 lead. They tried to make it 2-0, but Ramos was thrown out trying to score behind Desmond. Nonetheless, props to LaRoche (who is still using Jayson Werth's bat, by the way).
7:40 p.m. — Man oh man, Rob Drake is not going to be getting a Christmas card from Strasburg this year. Three times already in two innings, Strasburg thought he had strike three and started trotting off the mound, only to head back after Drake called them balls. Props to Strasburg for still getting out of it all without surrendering a hit so far, but his pitch count is at 41 when it could easily be around 30 instead.
7:58 p.m. — Some bad luck gets Strasburg in the top of the third. Heyward and Upton each reached on infield singles, with Desmond and Zimmerman unable to make tough plays. That opened the door for Freeman to loft an RBI single to right, tying this game 1-1. Strasburg continues to pitch well and has allowed only the one run over three innings, but he's already at 60 pitches, a bit of a concern.
8:17 p.m. — Make it six strikeouts for Strasburg through four innings, none of them coming on fastballs, interestingly enough. He's really used his offspeed stuff well so far, keeping the Braves off-balance. Still 1-1 as we go to the bottom of the fourth.
8:37 p.m. — Strasburg's inability to hold a man on first base really came back to bite him in the top of the fifth. With two outs, he let Justin Upton steal second without so much as any movement from Wilson Ramos or either middle infielder. And sure enough, Upton then scored on Freeman's base hit up the middle. That puts the Braves up 2-1, and that run is entirely on Strasburg.
8:50 p.m. — To no one's surprise, the Nationals aren't providing any run support to Strasburg. And he may pay the price once again for it. He's through six innings on 103 pitches, striking out nine. But he trails 2-1 because the Nats haven't made a dent into Minor since the bottom of the first.
8:58 p.m. — But the Nats tie it up in the bottom of the sixth. Zimmerman and Ramos led off the inning with back-to-back singles. (Ramos has now smoked the ball to right field three times tonight.) LaRoche had a bad strikeout on a breaking ball in the dirt, but Rendon picked him up with a bullet of a line drive to left-center. Upton did make the catch, but Zimmerman easily scored on the sac fly. So it's 2-2 as we move to the seventh and Strasburg takes the mound sitting on 103 pitches.
9:05 p.m. — Continuing a recent trend, Strasburg finished strong. He retired the last six batters he faced on 18 total pitches, keeping this a 2-2 game. His line: 7 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 9 K, 112 pitches. Seventh-inning stretch time.
9:20 p.m. — The Nats couldn't have asked for a much-better scenario than this: Scott Hairston's leadoff double in the bottom of the seventh put the go-ahead runner on second base with nobody out and Jayson Werth (pinch-hitting for Strasburg), Bryce Harper and Ian Desmond due up. Except they still couldn't get the runner home. Werth struck out on a 3-2 fastball at the knees from reliever David Carpenter. Harper absolutely smoked a 3-1 pitch to right field, unfortunately right at Jason Heyward. That left it all up to Desmond, who tapped a weak grounder in front of the plate to kill the rally and leave this game tied 2-2 heading to the eighth. Tyler Clippard in from the bullpen.
9:30 p.m. — Clippard hasn't made very many mistakes this season, but his 3-2 changeup to Justin Upton just now was a really big one. Upton clobbered the waist-high meatball down the left-field line and into the bleachers for his fourth homer in five days. Just like that, the Braves take a 3-2 lead and the Nats have some work to do. It is worth noting, though, that Craig Kimbrel has pitched the last three nights and probably isn't available to close tonight for Atlanta.
9:40 p.m. — And the Nats go down in order in the eighth, though LaRoche did smoke a liner right at Simmons for the final out. Their last hope will be Rendon, Span and Hairston in the bottom of the ninth.
10:03 p.m. — That'll do it. The Nats once again get the leadoff man on and move him into scoring position. But with Rendon on third and only one out, Hairston popped out to the catcher and Chad Tracy flied out to left on the first pitch he saw. It's a 3-2 loss, and the Nats now trail Atlanta by a daunting 13 1/2 games with 50 to play.