Nats focus on aggressive baserunning mistakes in loss to Braves

The Nationals were aggressive on the basepaths Friday in their 2-1 loss to the Atlanta Braves in the home opener. Unfortunately, they came up short on three critical plays: a pair of caught stealings and another runner thrown out at the plate.

Left fielder Bryce Harper was caught in a rundown in the second inning on a pitchout when he tried to swipe second. Shortstop Ian Desmond was thrown out in another rundown when he thought he had a shot to steal third base in the fifth inning. First baseman Adam LaRoche was easily thrown out at home after a Ryan Zimmerman double in the fourth.

Manager Matt Williams made it clear during spring training he wanted to have the Nationals be aggressive on the basepaths and take advantage of their speed and athletic ability up and down the lineup.

But can you be too aggressive for your own good?

“We want to take advantage of it when it is there for us, but we also want to make sure in that situation, so it was a little overaggressive,” Williams said of the play involving Desmond, which came after he was sent back to second base on a ground rule double after a video replay review erased an apparent inside-the-park home run.

“We need to score runs,” Williams said of the play where third base coach Bob Henley sent LaRoche only to have him caught at the plate. “I have no problem with that. Ball got over Justin (Upton’s) head and bounced off his body. He made a read and (Andrelton) Simmons’ throw was right on the money. We want to stay aggressive.”

Said third baseman Ryan Zimmerman: “We definitely need to be aggressive. You need to be intelligent when you are aggressive, obviously. I think Simmons made a perfect throw. Justin made a perfect throw to him and he made a perfect throw to the plate. In a tight game like that, where you are not going to get a chance to score too many runs, you can’t really fault anyone for taking a chance there.”

Williams believed Desmond would have liked to have had his ill-fated dash toward third base back if he had a chance to do it over again.

“Sure, I would imagine if you asked Ian, he would say, ‘I was a little late getting started, I wasn’t sure,’ ” Williams said. “That happens. We had our chances later, though.”

Desmond agreed and took the blame for the decision. He felt his baserunning mistake was a bigger story than the ground rule double that was first called an inside-the-park home run.

“I thought I had something and about halfway, I didn’t have what I thought I had and panic mode at that point,” Desmond said. “(Matt) has given us the leeway to go when we want. But that was a poor decision on my part.”

So what did he see that he thought gave him a good chance to steal the base?

“I would kind of be shooting myself in the foot if I told you,” he said.

LaRoche likes the agressiveness on the basepaths, but said you also have to be wise in picking those spots.

“There are times when it is smart to do it and there are times when you need to stay put,” LaRoche said. “Again, that all depends on the situation. Overall, Matt has emphasized all spring that we are all very aggressive baserunners, including Henley, our third base coach. Stay aggressive. I promise you if we continue that approach, it is going to pay off more times than it doesn’t.”

Zimmerman agrees with LaRoche. Just because the Nats went 0-for-3 on those type of aggressive plays Friday does not mean they are going to abandon the strategy four games into the season.

“It is good to be aggressive,” Zimmerman said. “And that is what we are going to do all year. Obviously, that is something that Matt preaches. It is good for us. I think we need to put pressure on the other team as long as it is intelligent. You don’t want to run into outs.”

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