Photo by Cheryl Nichols, Nationals News Network
The running gag in the postgame press conferences at Nationals Park from Manager Jim Riggleman is that he tends to say something about running into aces, and playing hard ball. Tonight the Nationals did both. They faced the Braves’ ace in Tim Hudson, who went 7 2/3 IP throwing just 96 pitches, and retired seven on strikeouts. Hudson was dominant most of the evening, brushing off the Nats offense with near impunity. The Nats did play hard tonight, but couldn’t generate any offensive action, and made some key defensive mistakes.
Hudson’s gem tonight was the difference for the Braves, who managed to get to Livan Hernandez early and knock out the wily veteran after just 4 1/3. If you’d have told me this morning that Hernandez would go fewer innings than Batista had managed the night before, I’d have laughed at you. That was all that Livo could muster tonight, as he battled with location and velocity, with his curve dropping to highway speeds at times tonight.
The Braves would strike early against Hernandez, getting a pair of runs in the first on some well-placed hits from Martín Prado and Jason Heyward, and the strangest double steal I’ve ever seen. The Braves had Heyward at third, and catcher Brian McCann at first after a walk. After taking the count full on Eric Hinske, Bobby Cox would send McCann on a hit-and-run. Hinske would swing through the third strike, and Pudge Rodriguez would attempt to gun down Hinske with a laser-like throw to Ian Desmond. Hinske realized what was afoot, and pulled up short about halfway, and started to retreat. Desmond took too long to get the ball back to Dunn, and the relay was late to the plate, allowing Heyward to score.
That was all the Braves would need against the Nationals anemic offense tonight. They would scatter seven hits off Tim Hudson, and plate just one run, in a night full of Ks and frustration. Josh Willingham was given a night off, and his replacement Willy Harris was his usual self at the plate (0-3, 3K) adding little to the lineup. The good news for the Nats out of tonight came in the form of Joel Peralta, who pitched three innings in relief, giving up no runs on two hits with three strikeouts. Doug Slaten pitched a third of an inning and Tyler Clippard pitched 1 1/3 with 3 Ks, in an outing that reminded us just why it was called Clipp ‘n’ Save early this season.
The Nationals face the Braves in the rubber match today in a businessman’s special at 12:35pm at Nats Park. Tickets should be plentiful, bring your sunscreen and play hooky.