On the very next pitch, Ramiro Pena hammered Karns’s 92-mph fastball into the right field bleachers. The Nationals’ hope to quickly erase the sting from Saturday night’s walkoff loss evaporated, and the Braves had taken an instant 2-0 lead.
The Nationals tied the score off Paul Maholm in the second with three straight hits from LaRoche, Desmond and Moore and a needed break — Maholm dropped what would have been the third out as he covered first base on Karns’s sharp grounder to first.
Karns said he felt more relaxed making his second start, but he would relinquish the lead in the bottom of the inning, when B.J. Upton smoked a solo homer to left field. In the minors, Karns had excelled by limiting homers — he allowed eight to 875 batters. In the majors, four of the first 28 batters he faced went deep.
“These guys have been here for a while, and I’m new to the game,” Karns said. “This is why they’re here for a long time. They’re able to do that. They’re making it difficult for me out there. But I’m just going to continue to improve. Hopefully it turns around where it’s difficult for them instead of myself.”
The Braves put the game away once Johnson pulled Karns for Duke in the fifth. Johnson needed several innings, and he wanted a lefty to face Brian McCann. Duke, the only lefty in the Nationals’ bullpen on opening day, was allowing left-handers to hit .407 off him before the game. McCann kept the inning going with an opposite field, RBI single. Freeman, also left-handed, provided the exclamation point in the sixth inning with a two-run double off the very top of the wall.
“I’ve been leaving pitches over the middle,” Duke said. “I’m not locating sliders to them. So it makes sense.”
Following Moore’s RBI single in the second inning, the Nationals went 1 for 26 for the remainder of the game. They went quietly Sunday, still waiting to become whole again, hoping time will not have run out by the time they do.
“We’re going to hit our stride eventually,” Desmond said. “I know the fans and everyone else are getting tired of hearing that. But it’s bound to happen. We’re a good ballclub. Obviously we’re weathering this storm. Eventually, it’s going to get good and it’s going be real fun. Everyone’s going to be back out wearing their red.”