Whenever the Nationals and Braves play, zaniness is to be expected. Following Friday’s wild 7-6 walkoff loss to Atlanta, the latest in the Nationals’ struggles against their division rival, there was still a lot to digest. So much happened in the 10-inning, nearly four-hour battle in Atlanta that could not be adequately explained on a tight deadline. The following are notes of the wild, the wacky and the truly bizarre from Turner Field.
>>> Jayson Werth left the game in the 10th inning with groin tightness, according to Manager Matt Williams. Werth went 1 for 5 before being replaced by Tyler Moore. Bryce Harper, who started in left, shifted to right for the final inning and Moore took over in left.
Williams called the injury “a little groin tweak.” He added: “We decided it was best to get him out of there and re-evaluate [Saturday].” Werth dealt with groin tightness last season, too. He said this spring that he is susceptible to groin injuries.
>>> The Nationals are now 7-16 against the Braves since the start of the 2013 season. All three Nationals losses this year are against the Braves. The games have been uncannily close: 14 of the past 27 games have been decided by one run, and the Nationals are 4-10 in those games. That record underscores the quality of Atlanta’s bullpen over Washington’s.
“I don’t know if it’s fluke,” third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “We’re two good teams. Unfortunately they’ve come out on top quite a bit the last year-and-a-half. It’s our job to try and figure out a way to change that.”
“When you play these close games, you want to win them, and especially against these guys, they seem to have been coming out on top,” reliever Tyler Clippard said. “And that’s what’s frustrating. That’s pretty much what it comes down to. Obviously, they’re a good team and we feel like we’re the top two teams in the division, and to lose to them, it’s always frustrating.”
>>> There were a lot of moving parts on the game-deciding play. The Nationals were playing the outfield back with two outs and Justin Upton at the plate. Chris Johnson hit a soft single off left-hander Jerry Blevins with two outs and was lifted for speedy pinch runner Jordan Schafer.
Williams called for Blevins to throw over to first to keep Schafer close. He did so three times. And, of course, the one time Blevins didn’t throw over to first, Schafer took off for second and Upton gets underneath a low curveball and bloops it to right field.
“They put him in the game to steal second base right there,” Williams said. “Otherwise, they wouldn’t want to lose Johnson. We just want to try to prevent that as much as possible. And it ended up that the ball he hit, he was going anyway. That’s the way it goes sometimes.”
“If he doesn’t go first attempt, a couple attempts, you gotta make your time to the plate a little bit quicker and just focus on putting a good ball and letting them put it in play and go from there,” Blevins added.
Because Schafer was attempting to steal, Anthony Rendon broke towards second to cover but then raced towards right when Upton made contact. Harper raced in from deep right field. The slicing ball bounced in front of Harper, who couldn’t field it cleanly. By then, Schafer was rounding third.
Perhaps a clean scoop of the ball and throw could have led to a play at the plate, but it would have called for a perfect throw. Either way, the Braves had the advantage in this situation, throw or not.
“The first instinct is to try to get them to make weak contact so it was a success there,” Blevins said. “But baseball is pretty crazy. Sometimes they fall. Sometimes they don’t.”
>>> Tanner Roark had his worst game as a major league starter. He allowed five runs on five hits, walked one, hit three batters and struck out three. He tossed only 4 2/3 innings, and Freddie Freeman’s two-out double elicited his removal by Williams after 86 laborious pitches.
“I was a little upset,” he said. “The more I look at it there was a guy on second and fresh arms coming up. It’s his decision and nothing I can do about it.”
Friday’s start was, perhaps, the worst command Roark has shown as a major league starter. His emergence in 2013 hinged, in large part, on his exceptional command. Against the Braves, he appeared out of sorts. He hit Freeman in the leg in the first inning. He grazed Dan Uggla’s jersey in the second, a mistake that would haunt him two batters later when Ramiro Pena homered. In the third inning, Roark drilled Justin Upton in the back.
Roark may have had trouble adjusting to the past week’s schedule. He last pitched on April 3 because of an offday on Monday and Williams’ shuffling of the rotation. Roark had not faced live hitters in eight days before he climbed onto the mound on Friday. He said the layoff didn’t affect him.
“I felt great out there,” he said. “I didn’t really have the command on the pitches that I wanted. I hit three guys today. That’s not what I usually do.”