Braves 2, Nationals 0: Second Look

Welcome to our Second Look feature, which we’ll run on most mornings after Nationals games this season. The point of this feature is to take a more detailed look back at the previous night’s (or in this case, day’s) Nationals game, spot some trends and showcase a few things you might have missed. We’ll also have our Golden Geese and Goose Eggs feature here.

The first one of these focuses on a game the Nationals could have won, but lost because of a few missed chances. As I wrote yesterday, there’s a bit of a concern that their offense, which was 14th in the National League in runs scored last year, will be potent enough to trigger an improvement this year. It’s only one game, but those who were worried about that probably aren’t feeling any better after yesterday’s 2-0 loss to the Braves.

“The offense is going to come and go,” second baseman Danny Espinosa said. “When it’s there, we’ll win.”

We’ll get right to it:

Golden Geese
Espinosa: One day into the season, the second baseman showed why he is a viable candidate for Rookie of the Year honors this year. He hustled down the line to beat out a dribbler for a base hit in the second inning, and ripped a one-out double to deep center off Eric O’Flaherty in the seventh inning. Espinosa made a couple nice plays in the infield, though he couldn’t turn a double play on Dan Uggla in the seventh inning. But with his speed and his live bat from both sides of the plate, Espinosa showed why he’ll eventually be a candidate to hit higher in the order. “As time goes on, I think Espinosa’s got a chance to hit one or two,” right fielder Jayson Werth said.

Livan Hernandez: The veteran right-hander made one mistake on a 2-1 slider to Jason Heyward, leaving it higher and further out in the strike zone than he would have liked. But he was impressive other than that, throwing just 77 pitches in 6 1/3 innings and allowing two runs in the loss. “It’s only one mistake that I can say,” Hernandez said. “It was a slider hanging, he hit it out. If it was in, it might be a ground ball to first base.”

Ryan Zimmerman: The third baseman went 1-for-3 on opening day, singling to right in the first inning and drawing a walk in the sixth. He looked at a pitch on the outside corner for strike three in the third inning, but the Nationals had some issues with home plate umpire Tim Welke’s strike zone all day, feeling like Hernandez didn’t get the same number of outside strikes as Derek Lowe did.

Goose Eggs
Michael Morse: The left fielder is a big part of the Nationals’ plan to produce runs with Werth hitting second, and Morse gave the team plenty of hope with his nine homers in spring training. But he went 0-for-4 in the opener, grounding out twice with two men on base.

Rick Ankiel: He was 0-for-3 with a walk in his first start for the Nationals, got caught stealing the one time he got on base and looked at a third strike for the final out of the game. He and Werth also had trouble with Brian McCann’s RBI single in the first inning, when both went for the grounder up the middle and struggled to pick it up off the wet field.

In Case You Missed It:
* Morse got an at-bat against O’Flaherty in the sixth inning; he only had 99 plate appearances against lefties last year, and hit eight of his 15 homers against them. But he should get a few cracks at lefty relievers this year when teams do what the Braves did in the sixth, bringing in a lefty for Adam LaRoche and leaving him in to face Morse with Ankiel on deck. Morse’s at-bat came with men on first and second, and he took an outside sinker for a strike before smoking a low, inside fastball. It looked like it had a chance to get through, but Alex Gonzalez slid to one leg to stop it and throw to second for the final out of the inning. “I hope I get a lot of those opportunities,” Morse said. “I felt like I got a good pitch to hit today, but they kept the ball down. All their pitchers kept the ball down. I hit it hard, but I wish it would have gotten through the infield.”

* With Espinosa on third in the seventh inning, manager Jim Riggleman brought up Jerry Hairston Jr. to pinch hit before pulling one of his favorite moves, swapping Hairston for the left-handed Laynce Nix when the Braves pulled O’Flaherty for right-hander Peter Moylan. Why didn’t Riggleman go to Matt Stairs there? “I felt if I put Stairs up there, they really wouldn’t let him hit. I thought they would kind of dance around him,” Riggleman said. “I thought we had a better chance of getting a left-hander a pitch there by putting Nix up there. I had a confidence that Laynce would get him.” Riggleman has also said he wants to save Stairs for closers, who are mostly right-handed. The Braves’ Craig Kimbrel is right-handed, and had the Nationals’ ninth inning gone to Ivan Rodriguez, it’s possible Riggleman would have used Stairs there.

Talking Points:
Here’s the part of Second Look where you get to respond. I’ll pose a question or two, and you can leave your thoughts in the comments:

1. For those in attendance: How was your opening day experience? Did the weather (pardon the pun) dampen the day for you, or did you still enjoy it as much as ever?

2. The Nationals haven’t won on opening day since 2008. It’s just one game, but does the first one matter to you? Does it mean anything that they didn’t get throttled like they had the last two years in the opener?

Leave your thoughts in the comments section. It’s an off day today, but I’ll have a podcast with Nationals minor leaguer Ryan Tatusko answering some of your questions a little later today. And if you’re curious about anything else from yesterday, leave a question in the comments section. I’ll respond to you there.