The Nationals lived to tell about their first showdown with the Braves. No result would have mattered to the standings so early in the season. But a sweep would have been disheartening and may have had a deeper effect on the Nationals. The Braves have still beaten the Nationals in 14 of 21 meetings since last opening day. But the Nationals proved Sunday they can beat them, even with half their lineup either missing or on the bench.
“What we take from it is, the Braves are a really good team,” Nationals Manager Matt Williams said. “They’ve got a lot of ways to beat you. Exceptional bullpen. We were in two of the three, really. With the exception of yesterday, we were one swing away from that one. That’s good. Guys are fighting hard.”
What else can we take away from this weekend on chew on until next Friday, when they meet again? A few things, both about the matchup and about Williams.
>>> The Braves’ pitching staff recovered from losing Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen. The effect of Atlanta’s brutal spring training, which included Tommy John surgeries for two of their best starters, appears to have been exaggerated. The Nationals scored five runs in the series. Four came off the Braves’ starters over 19 innings, and Braves relievers held them to one run over nine innings.
The effect may seem greater once attrition takes hold. When inevitable injuries come later in the season, the depth the Braves were counting on will already be on their major league roster. This weekend, though, the Braves did not send a single overmatched pitcher to the mound.
>>> Jerry Blevins will be used frequently. With one out in the seventh, Jason Heyward came to the plate and Freddie Freeman, another fearsome lefty, loomed two batters away. The Nationals traded quicksilver outfield prospect Billy Burns to Oakland A’s for Blevins for just this occasion.
Blevins delivered. Heyward swung through an 83-mph slider for strike three. B.J. Upton lined out to end the seventh, and Blevins remained on the mound to take care of Freeman in the eighth. He hit a rocket to center that, on a warmer day, might have sneaked over the fence. Sunday, it settled into Denard Span’s mitt.
Blevins had done his job, and because of his style, it doesn’t figure to get much easier for Freeman and Heyward. It’s not like Blevins has mastered Freeman – along with his smoked line drive Sunday, he mashed a double off Blevins on Saturday.
But Blevins throws four different pitches, a luxury and a rarity for a matchup lefty. As Freeman and Heyward adjust to Blevins – and they’ll see him a bunch this season – Blevins will be able to modify his approach against them to keep them guessing.
The Braves could counter. Upton has been dreadful in the first week of the season. If his struggles continue, Manager Fredi Gonzalez may be compelled to move a better right-hander hitter – Chris Johnson, perhaps – between Heyward and Freeman. That may force Williams to choose if he wants Blevins to face Heyward or Freeman. Sunday, he could face both.
>>> The Nationals need a better plan against Freddie Freeman. Last year, Freeman hit .306 and had 13 RBI in 16 games against the Nationals. This weekend, he went 5 for 10 with three walks and a double. He’s a monster against every team, but the Nationals need to do a better job keeping him off the bases.
FROM THE POST
He resisted dip in the morning, and in the afternoon Ian Desmond delivered the Nationals a 2-1, sweep-stopping victory over the Braves.
Ryan Zimmerman avoided the disabled list even after he said his shoulder is feeling worse than it has in the past.
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
MINOR LEAGUE BOX SCORES
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre 5, Syracuse 0: Zach Walters went 2 for 3 with a double. Christian Garcia allowed no runs in one inning on no hits and no walks, striking out one.
Syracuse 3, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre 0: Will Rhymes went 2 for 2 with two doubles. Brock Peterson went 2 for 3 with a double. Taylor Hill allowed no runs in six innings on three hits and no walks, striking out five.
Bowie 10, Harrisburg 5: Matt Purke allowed six earned runs in three innings on nine hits and one walk, striking out two. Matt Skole went 0 for 2 with three walks. Jason Martinson went 2 for 4 with a double.
Potomac 6, Carolina 4: Stephen Perez went 2 for 4 with a double. Pedro Encarnacion allowed one run in four innings on two hits and four walks, striking out two.
Hagerstown 6, Rome 2: Ike Ballou went 2 for 5 with a triple. In relief, Dixon Anderson allowed no runs in four innings on one hit and no walks, striking out two.