By Gene Wang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 29, 2010; D08
Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
Told minutes before the first pitch he would be the replacement starter for Stephen Strasburg, Miguel Batista walked casually to the Washington dugout, smiling practically the entire trip from the bullpen. There was no indication of any unease that may have overwhelmed other less grizzled players facing this particularly odd circumstance.
Batista instead very much resembled the youthful, hard-throwing ace most of the 40,043 at Nationals Park came to see tame the Atlanta Braves, tossing five scoreless innings that included six strikeouts and just one walk in a 3-0 victory. That three-hit outing was more than enough to win over an initially grumpy fan base that booed Batista when he was announced.
"Imagine if you go to see Miss Universe, then you end up having Miss Iowa, you might get those kind of boos," Batista said. "But it's okay. They have to understand that as an organization we have to make sure that the kid is fine. You don't want to expose him out there and screw up his future."
By the time Batista exited to rousing applause, the Nationals (43-57) were well on their way to ending a three-game slide in their first home game in more than two weeks. Batista's effort coupled with Ian Desmond's two RBI and some nifty running by leadoff hitter Nyjer Morgan for the game's first run also triggered a wave of optimism to start this six-game home stand after a 3-7 trip.
Batista (1-2) was masterful in his first start in nearly two years after moving past the first inning during which he hit Jason Heyward, the Braves' rookie phenom who has garnered as much attention in Atlanta as Strasburg has in the nation's capital.
Batista, 39, began to overpower the Braves (57-42) in the second, when he struck out left fielder Eric Hinske and starting pitcher Tommy Hanson (8-7), both swinging. In the third, Batista fanned leadoff hitter Martin Prado looking and got Heyward swinging, then in the fourth struck out catcher Brian McCann and first baseman Troy Glaus.
"I just tried to give the people what they came to see," Batista said. "They came to see a 20-year-old and ended up having [someone] almost 40. They were expecting 10 strikeouts on the bump, but I'm too old for 10. I tried to give them the best I could, stay in the game, make the guys swing the bat because I knew I was limited on my pitches."
By the time Batista handed over the ball to reliever Sean Burnett to start the sixth, the Nationals had scored all the runs they needed in support of their emergency starter. Washington got its first run when Morgan singled in the first, stole second, then third and came home on McCann's throwing error.
In the second, right fielder Roger Bernadina singled with none out, and catcher Iván Rodríguez followed with a shot down the third base line. Chipper Jones threw to second to try for the force, but the ball was off target, allowing Bernadina to end up on third and Rodríguez on second. Desmond then drove the first pitch he saw to left-center to score both runners.
"You can't explain how huge that is for [Batista] and for us," said Drew Storen, who pitched the eighth before Matt Capps set down the Braves in order in the ninth for his 25th save. Batista "has come in tight spots all year and eaten up some innings for us. To go out there today and throw a shutout like he did and then turn it over to the bullpen, you couldn't ask for anything better than that."