Prior to tonight's 6-3 loss to the Braves, a defeat that resulted in the second Atlanta sweep at Nationals Park this season, Davey Johnson threw his back out. He appeared fine after the game, but in the 70-year-old skipper's mind, that injury was symbolic of how this season has gone for his club.
The Nats came into this series against Atlanta hoping to, at the very least, take two out of three games and give themselves a shot to possibly claw back into the division race.
Instead, they dropped all three, and now find themselves a whopping 15 1/2 back in the National League East. Their proverbial backs have seemingly gone out.
"They outplayed us. Pure and simple," Johnson said. "They just outplayed us."
Not only did this series effectively knock the Nats out of contention for the division title, but it also dealt a massive blow to their Wild Card chances. After tonight, the Nats are nine back of the Reds in the race for the final NL Wild Card spot. But Johnson isn't conceding anything yet.
"Still a lot of games left," Johnson said. "Shoot. We've got a lot of ground to make up, but you never know what can happen in this game. If nothing else, get our pride back by playing better."
Hoping to salvage a game in this series and avoid the sweep, the Nats sent Jordan Zimmermann and his 3.06 ERA to the mound tonight. Zimmermann was smacked around pretty hard, however, allowing seven hits and two walks in just four innings of work. He managed to only surrender two runs, but tonight was far from the Zimmermann we're used to seeing. He worked deep into counts, served up bases-on-balls and allowed two-strike hits.
Johnson told reporters after the game that Zimmermann started feeling tightness in his neck again, the same issue that he dealt with for a couple months earlier in the season.
"I think he's having some problems, his usual problem, a little tightness back in here," Johnson said. "He said it wasn't too bad. I think with the off-day he's going to get an extra day, so that might help him."
Zimmermann, however, disputed the notion that he was bothered by the neck issue.
"That's news to me," he said. "I felt fine."
Regardless, Zimmermann's ineffectiveness led to Johnson going to his bullpen to start the fifth inning. Tanner Roark came in to make his major league debut and threw two scoreless innings ("I thought he threw the ball well and very athletic, made a heck of a play on that bunt," Johnson said), but things went downhill from there.
Fernando Abad gave up a run in the seventh on a Justin Upton home run, Ryan Mattheus got stuck with two earned runs over an inning's worth of work, and Ian Krol was unable to get out of a jam in the eighth, allowing two inherited runs to score and an earned run of his own, as well.
Krol came in to face Jason Heyward with two on and two out in the eighth in a 3-3 game, but after getting ahead 0-2, he hung a breaking ball that Heyward drilled for an RBI single. Upton then smoked a two-run double to make it 6-3.
"I was going to go to (Tyler Clippard) if (Krol) walked Heyward," Johnson said. "I wasn't going to bring him in to face Heyward. Heyward hits him, is hitting about .600 off him. And if (Krol) walked him, I'd have brought him in in a tie game. He'd have to finish that inning and go the next inning. But (Krol) didn't get the left-hander out. So I'm not gonna bring (Clippard) in one run down."
The Nats had their issues between the lines late in the game, and they had issues in the dugout, as well. Johnson was caught on camera getting into a seemingly animated discussion with Bryce Harper after Harper flied out in the seventh and didn't hustle the play out to Johnson's liking.
"Yeah, I went over. I was concerned about his leg bothering him because he didn't round the base," Johnson said. "That was all that was about. ... (He said) that he just messed up. It wasn't bad enough to come out of the game."
Where do the Nats go from here, after a frustrating sweep that leaves them 6-13 since the All-Star break?
"Just keep battling," Johnson said. "Just one game can turn you around, get some momentum going. That can happen. Things can change quick."