The Braves have taken the first two games of their series here in D.C., out-hitting the Nationals, playing superior defense and getting better overall pitching.
This afternoon, Tim Hudson held the Nats to just one run and four hits over seven innings, the Braves capitalized on Ryan Zimmerman’s third-inning throwing error, getting two unearned runs on Evan Gattis’ two-run homer, and Eric O’Flaherty and Craig Kimbrel locked down the 3-1 Atlanta win.
It’s been two tightly played games over the last two days, but the Nats aren’t reading anything into the results.
“They’re good. I don’t think they’re better than us,” Danny Espinosa said. “They’re a good ballclub. They have talent. They’re hot right now. They lost one game. They’re hot. They came back in a couple games, but it all evens out.”
Stephen Strasburg faced this new-look Braves lineup for the first time, allowing just those two unearned runs on five hits over six strong innings. He struck out seven and walked one, throwing 112 pitches.
Asked his thoughts on the Braves offensively, Strasburg paused for a couple of seconds.
“Honestly, I think our lineup’s better,” Strasburg responded. “They’re just hot right now. It’s early, but it’s not about how many wins you finish with in April, it’s how many you have at the end of the year.”
Strasburg wasn’t at his sharpest today. He had trouble locating his off-speed stuff early and had to work deep into counts, but still was able to get through six innings and seemed to get stronger as the game went on, retiring the final seven hitters he faced.
“I thought he was throwing good, he just didn’t have much command,” manager Davey Johnson said. “Seems to be running through our staff a little bit, the command problems. But he pitched well enough. Just the bats - you’ve got to tip your hat to Hudson, he pitched a hell of a ballgame.”
Outside of Espinosa’s solo home run in the fifth, the Nats weren’t able to manage much at all off Hudson. The veteran right-hander worked quickly, got ahead of Nats hitters and mixed his pitches effectively.
“Huddy was Huddy,” Adam LaRoche said. “When he’s on, that’s what you’re getting. You’re getting a lot of strikes, works fast and pounds the zone. And that can be uncomfortable as a hitter. I think we all got some pitches to hit and didn’t take advantage of it.”
Zimmerman’s throwing error was a key play in the game, as it extended the third inning, essentially giving the Braves a fourth out to play with. Gattis made the most of the opportunity, crushing a two-run shot to left just three pitches after Zimmerman threw wide of LaRoche at first base.
It was Zimmerman’s second throwing error on the season.
“It’s only going to get better,” Johnson said of Zimmerman’s throwing. “He had a major problem in there, they corrected it (surgically) and it’s rebuilding it. It’s just going to take time. But I think he’s throwing a lot better and I know he feels a lot better about it.”
Zimmerman provided confirmation on that front, saying he’s “very confident” in his throwing at this point, but just didn’t take as much time as he probably should have on Justin Upton’s slow grounder. Zimmerman tried to make a running throw across his body and missed his mark.
“I feel fine,” Zimmerman said. “I made an error. It happens. I’m gonna make more. I made a couple other plays after that that were fine, and I’ve been throwing the ball great. I had the tough play last night that maybe I don’t throw it, maybe I do. Can’t really count that one. Today was just an error. It happened.”
For what it’s worth, LaRoche says he’s seen improvement in Zimmerman’s throwing in his three years in D.C.
“He’s got a lot straighter ball this year,” LaRoche said. “Last year, he had an issue where he was cutting some balls. Got his shoulder worked on, spent a lot of time in spring training working on it and he’s one of the best defenders out there, so he’ll be fine.”
Gio Gonzalez gets the ball for the Nationals tomorrow afternoon as they look to avoid getting swept by the team that many believe will be their chief competition in the National League East.
“We play 162 games,” Espinosa said. “This isn’t going to ruin our season. It happens. We’ll go out tomorrow and try to salvage a game tomorrow.”