But those nerves, Broderick insisted, were not the reason for his uneven major league debut, in which he allowed four earned runs while retiring two batters in the eighth inning of today’s 11-2 loss to the Braves. The first three hitters he faced reached, and then he forced in a run with a bizarre balk. Jason Heyward slapped Broderick’s first pitch to right field for a single, and things did not get much better.

“I fell behind guys, and I can’t do that,” Broderick said. “You have to throw strikes.”

The most unusual part of Broderick’s day came after Heyward singled, Alex Gonzalez reached on a fielder’s choice and Freddie Freeman walked. Broderick wound up and completed his delivery to Eric Hinske, everything looking normal aside from one important detail: Broderick never released the ball.

“My cleat got caught before I got to the end of it,” Broderick explained. “I figured I could throw it over the catcher’s head or not throw it at all.”

Broderick’s rough outing could have been curtailed. Heyward’s single was without question a clean hit, but it was also a groundball, which is what Broderick wants to produce every at-bat with his sinker-slider combination. And Gonzalez’s chopper to third should have been at least one out. Ryan Zimmerman charged the bounding ball and gambled by throwing to second. His throw arrived just late, and Heyward tumbled into Danny Espinosa, preventing him throwing to first.

The rest of the Nationals bullpen did not fare much better than Broderick. Todd Coffey allowed a pair of earned runs, both of which scored after he left the game Doug Slaten could not strand two inherited runners. (Slaten, consistently reliable last season, has allowed three of the first four batters he faced this year to reach base.) When Chad Gaudin replaced Broderick, he allowed hits to the first three batters he faced. Manager Jim Riggleman took responsibility for the struggles of Slaten and Broderick, saying they had warmed up twice before entering the game.

As for Broderick, he retired the next two batters after his balk, but his day would end with Nate McLouth roping a double to left-center. He walked off the field with the game no longer competitive, a few boos cascading from the crowd. He had already started thinking about his second major league appearance, a chance he wants as soon as possible. Broderick pitched his into the majors as a Rule 5 pick, and he still believes he belongs here.

“I’m at the highest level,” Broderick said. “So I can’t be afraid to pitch in these games.”