Zimmerman’s wild throw proves costly (Nats drop second in a row to Braves)

For the third time in the last two days, Ryan Zimmerman has delivered an off-target throw. Two of those three throws have cost the Nationals.

I’m of the mind that not too much blame should be heaped on Zimmerman for his throw to second base in the ninth inning last night. Zimmerman was off-balance and needed to get the throw off in a hurry in order to beat Jason Heyward to the second base bag, and he missed his target by a few feet. The ball rolled into right field and two runs scored.

Zimmerman admitted the smarter play, in retrospect, would’ve probably been to hold the ball, but you can’t really fault the guy for trying to make a game-ending play.

Of more concern, however, is that Zimmerman has now made two wild throws to first base in this series, both on relatively routine plays.

Last night, first baseman Adam LaRoche bailed Zimmerman out, stretching to bring in the wide throw and tapping the bag to avoid an error. Today, LaRoche couldn’t save Zimmerman from an E-5, and it led to two unearned runs for Stephen Strasburg.

With two outs in the third, Zimmerman charged Justin Upton’s slow roller and whipped a throw to first across his body, but it was well wide and rolled to the edge of the Nats dugout.

Three pitches later, Evan Gattis cranked a two-run homer over the visitor’s bullpen in left, giving the Braves a 2-0 lead.

Zimmerman now has two errors on the season, but he’s had a number of other throws that have skipped in to first base or been off-target, and LaRoche has been able to provide an assist and make the play.

The Nats third baseman had offseason shoulder surgery and said all spring that his throwing motion now feels natural and smooth. The results haven’t been that smooth through the first 11 games of the season, however.

Strasburg, meanwhile, has thrown 56 pitches through three innings, eight of which came after Zimmerman’s error, which should have been the final out of the inning.

The Nats trail 2-0 after three innings. Braves starter Tim Hudson is at just 35 pitches and has faced the minimum.

Update: Danny Espinosa finally got the Nats on the board in the fifth inning, smacking a two-out solo homer to right to make it a 2-1 game.

The longball is Espinosa’s first of the season and breathes a little life into this crowd.

Despite the home run, Hudson has still thrown just 62 pitches through five. The Nats have been super aggressive off him today, getting to just one three-ball count and working only two at-bats of more than five pitches.

The Braves, on the other hand, have really made Strasburg work, forcing him into deep counts and getting production from the bottom of their order. Ramiro Pena and Hudson - Atlanta’s eight- and nine-hole hitters - are a combined 3-for-3 with a walk.

Strasburg has thrown 95 pitches through five, but the bullpen is quiet. The sixth inning is his.

Update II: Strasburg finished his outing with a dominant sixth, finishing with back-to-back strikeouts of Juan Francisco and Chris Johnson. He’ll be pulled for a pinch-hitter to open the bottom of the sixth.

Final line for the Nats’ ace: 6 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 7 Ks, HBP, 112 pitches, 68 strikes.

Strasburg didn’t have his best stuff today, but he still dealt.

Update III: Zach Duke and Henry Rodriguez each worked a scoreless frame for the Nats in relief, but they’ve gone 10-up, 10-down since Espinosa’s homer and still trail 2-1 after eight.

The Braves will turn to Craig Kimbrel again for the ninth, so the Nats will have their hands full as they look to knot this game or pull off a dramatic win.

Meanwhile, Kurt Suzuki has taken over the catching duties to start the top of the ninth. Wilson Ramos came off the field very slowly after hustling down the line on his groundout to end the eighth, and he is now out of the game.

We’ll see whether Ramos suffered some kind of injury or whether Johnson was just being cautious with Ramos, who tore the ACL and meniscus in his right knee last May.

Update IV: The Braves picked up a big insurance run in the top of the ninth off Ryan Mattheus and Craig Kimbrel got his sixth save of the season - and second in as many nights - as Atlanta beat the Nats 3-1.

Zimmerman’s error ended up being very costly in the end.

Gio Gonzalez will go for the Nats tomorrow as they try and avoid the home sweep at the hands of their division rivals.

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