WASHINGTON – There aren’t going to be many times when Stephen Strasburg doesn’t give up an earned run and the Washington Nationals lose the game.
Unfortunately for Washington and its ace right-hander, that is precisely what happened Saturday in an NL East duel against the Atlanta Braves.
Strasburg threw six innings of five-hit ball, but a throwing error by third baseman Ryan Zimmerman paved the way for Atlanta to extend its winning streak to eight games with a 3-1 victory.
Coming off a flawed outing in Cincinnati (6 runs in 5 1-3 innings), Strasburg was in control against the Braves. But Atlanta got all the runs it needed when Zimmerman threw wildly to first base after fielding Justin Upton’s third-inning grounder and Evan Gattis followed with his fourth home run in eight big-league games.
Zimmerman’s error was Washington’s 10th in 11 games.
“It was just a bad throw,” Zimmerman said. “Unfortunately, today they took advantage of it. Stephen threw the ball so well today, and when you do that and that happens in a game like that, you feel bad. But that’s part of the game.”
Strasburg (1-2) struck out seven, walked one and hit a batter. He insisted he did not lose his focus after Zimmerman’s error gave the Braves a chance to extend the inning.
“The guy’s up there hacking,” Strasburg said of Gattis. “I throw one up at his neck and he tomahawks it out.”
The play that preceded it, though, was the difference between winning and losing.
“In close games like today, well-pitched games, it’s the little things you have to do that win the game,” winning pitcher Tim Hudson said. “They made one mistake that cost them the game, and we were pretty solid all day.”
The Nationals have lost two straight for the first time this season. Worse, catcher Wilson Ramos pulled his left hamstring running out a grounder and could be lost for a while.
“It’s a pretty deep pull,” manager Davey Johnson said. “We’ll see how he comes out of it tomorrow, but we’ll probably have to get somebody in here.”
Hudson (2-0) allowed one run and four hits in seven innings in improving his lifetime record against Washington to 15-5. Not only did the right-hander outpitch Strasburg, but he also got two singles off Washington’s hard-throwing star.
Hudson permitted only one runner past second base — Danny Espinoza, who hit a solo homer in the fifth.
After Eric O’Flaherty worked a perfect eighth for the Braves, Jason Heyward hit a run-scoring grounder in the ninth for a 3-1 cushion. Craig Kimbrel then got three straight outs for his sixth save in six tries.
The victory kept the first-place Braves unbeaten on the road (5-0) and increased their lead over Washington to three games. Atlanta (9-1) is off to its best start since 1994 (13-1).
“It was a big day for us,” Hudson said. “We knew coming in it wasn’t going to easy.”
In the first inning, leadoff hitter Denard Span singled and advanced when Hudson threw wildly to first on a pickoff attempt. But Span was doubled off second after breaking on a sinking liner by Jayson Werth, which was ultimately caught by center fielder B.J. Upton.
“That changed the momentum of the game right there,” Hudson said.
Atlanta missed a chance to break on top in the second when left fielder Bryce Harper threw out Dan Uggla, who was trying to score from second on a two-out single by Hudson.
After the Braves went up 2-0, Espinoza halved Atlanta’s lead with his first homer of the season. Prior to that, Hudson had retired 10 of 11 batters.
After that, Hudson got seven straight outs to finish his sparkling performance.
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