Nationals encouraged by solid defense in opener

The Nationals dropped a hard-fought 2-0 late-March lid-lifter to the Atlanta Braves at Nationals Park, unable to generate offense against a solid pitching performance from veteran Derek Lowe.

In his ninth career opening day start, Nationals starter Livan Hernandez was equal to the task, allowing just two runs, and the Washington bullpen surrendered just two hits in the final 2 2/3 innings. After two early tallies, Hernandez retired 15 consecutive Braves hitters. His efficiency was particularly impressive: 77 pitches, 51 strikes.

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"I got to go and pitch like I did today," Hernandez said. "Trust me, there won't be too many games where we get zero (runs and) four or five hits. I pitch like that (and) it will give us a chance in the end to win a lot of games."

Defense - particularly from their revamped infield - kept the Nationals in the game.

The Nats turned a crisp 1-6-3 double play and came close to another 5-4-3 twin-killing in the seventh inning.

Adam LaRoche made a diving stop to his right on a hot shot by Brian McCann in the fourth, throwing calmly to Hernandez for the 3-1 putout.

If you have watched the Nationals in recent years, you got the feeling a game like this would have ended up 5-0 or 7-0 if not for those timely plays and a bend-but-don't-break pitching performance.

The Braves scored two runs on three hits in the first two innings, one on a solo shot by Jason Heyward.

But, in the end, Atlanta mustered just five hits and left three players on base. Not many chances for them in this one, thanks to the Nationals' pitching and defense.

Sure, the Nationals wanted to win the game and were disappointed afterward. But the Nats did take some solace in the fact that with one baserunner, the tying run would have been at the plate every inning.

"These are the games where, if you win over 50 percent of these kind of games, then you have a good year," Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "If you win under 50 percent, then you have a bad year. It was a crisp game. Both teams played well. They got a couple of timely hits. That is why they won the game."

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