On the potential for retaliation, Krol’s struggles and Storen’s return

ATLANTA - There’s one key factor in whether the Nationals can, or choose to, use tonight to retaliate to the multiple plunkings of Bryce Harper by Braves pitchers over the last two weeks.

That factor is whether or not the umpires issue warnings before the first pitch of tonight’s game is thrown.

If the umpires try and take matters into their own hands and prevent further incident between the Nats and Braves by issuing warnings to both benches before the game begins, it would make it tougher for tonight’s starter, Stephen Strasburg, or another Nats pitcher to retaliate under what the Nats might feel are the proper circumstances.

If Strasburg has intentions of trying to “even the score,” so-to-speak, and drill a Braves hitter after Harper has now been hit by a Braves pitcher three times in the last three games between these teams, he would likely prefer to pick a key Atlanta batter and get it out of the way early.

The umpires surely are aware of what happened at Nats Park less than two weeks ago, when Julio Teheran hit Bryce Harper after Harper had homered in his previous at-bat, and they obviously saw how things went down last night.

Regardless of whether yesterday’s plunkings were intentional (and there’s no way Alex Wood’s fourth inning hit-by-pitch was), the umpires should understand the Nationals’ position. They need to stand up for their teammate and let the Braves know that repeatedly hitting Harper won’t be tolerated.

If the umps don’t issue warnings and let the Nats take care of things themselves, the matter should be settled. If the umps step in by issuing warnings, Strasburg would risk an early ejection and a suspension if he were to hit a Braves batter, making retaliation more complicated.

There’s no doubt that the Nationals are not pleased with how Harper has been pushed around by the Braves lately. Tonight will be a chance to push back.

So, yeah, tonight’s game has a chance to be pretty interesting in that respect.

Meanwhile, after a tremendous start with the Nationals in his first three weeks in the big leagues, Ian Krol has really started to struggle.

The 22-year-old left-hander has pitched to a 5.84 ERA in his last 16 outings with 17 hits and five walks in 12 1/3 innings. He has now allowed a run in four of his last six appearances, including last night’s walk-off homer to Justin Upton, and in those six outings, opponents are batting .412/.500/.882 off him.

Krol quietly spoke to reporters last night about how he can turn things around after what’s been a rough couple weeks for him.

“Keep the same routine. Don’t shy away from it,” Krol said. “It’s a game of failure. Right now I’m pretty down on myself. I let my team down, especially back-to-back nights. We fought hard to rally back and tie the game up. But I’m just going to keep going out there and keep doing what I know how to.”

On the flip side, Drew Storen’s first appearance with the Nats since returning from the minor leagues was a positive one last night, as he worked a scoreless bottom of the ninth, getting two strikeouts, to send the game to extra innings.

“It was fun, I love pitching here,” Storen said. “The fans are really into it and a tight ballgame like that, wouldn’t want it any other way. ... I felt great. Just kind of getting back to my old ways. Got put to the test getting a guy on first and felt good about the way I held the runner on. Made good pitches when I needed to against some good hitters.”

Working with his new mechanics that featured a high leg kick (a delivery that Storen returned to while in the minors), Storen’s slider seemed especially sharp last night. He threw six sliders in a seven-pitch battle with Braves pinch-hitter Evan Gattis last night, when Gattis came up with a runner on first and one out. Storen punctuated the at-bat by getting Gattis swinging at a slider down and in.

“Yeah, it felt great,” Storen said. “Like I said, against a good hitter like Gattis, anytime you can get him to swing and miss on that, that’s pretty good because he saw a fair share of them, that’s for sure. ... It’s just kinda reading his swings and seeing what I saw. I’m trying to miss his barrel, because (if it hits) his barrel, (it’s) gonna go a long way. Just making a good pitch to him. If you get a strikeout, that’s great, but get soft contact, that’s also good.”

While one might think the blood would be pumping a little harder given that last night was Storen’s first big league appearance in weeks, the right-hander said there weren’t really any nerves last night outside of the normal adrenaline that he feels in a big spot.

“It’s just kinda getting back on the horse,” he said. “I didn’t look at it as a big test or anything that monumental. Just trying to put up a zero, give us a chance to win. It was fun, more than anything, I would say.”

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