The focus at Nationals Park on Tuesday night was nowhere near the action on the field, and understandably so. When Miguel Batista, not Stephen Strasburg, walked out of the bullpen before the game with the Atlanta Braves, the collective conscience of the 40,043 in attendance was taken somewhere else. The Nationals are saying Strasburg has some shoulder inflammation, but no major damage. We'll find out more today, so for a few minutes, let's turn our attention to this somewhat-overlooked fact from Tuesday: In Strasburg's absence, the Nationals played one of their best games of the year.
Miguel Batista: This is an easy one; Batista did more than the Nationals could have asked of him, turning in five shutout innings on about 10 minutes' notice. Manager Jim Riggleman said he was hoping to get three innings from Batista, and anything else would've been a bonus. Instead, Batista kept the NL's third-best offense at bay, turning in five shutout innings and essentially pitching the swingman's equivalent of a perfect game. He gave up three hits, but there's nothing else the Nationals could have asked of Batista. Kristen Hudak has more on his night here.
Sean Burnett: After Batista turned in five innings, Burnett added another two, preserving the shutout with efficient work. He threw 30 pitches, got three ground balls and allowed only one hit. The left-hander is quietly having an impressive season for the Nationals, with a Fielding Independent Pitching rating of 3.14 (that's comparable to an ERA, but it only measures the things a pitcher can control - walks, strikeouts, home runs, etc.). He gave the Nationals an important bridge on Tuesday.
Ian Desmond: Before batting practice on Tuesday, Desmond was bouncing around in the Nationals' dugout, chirping about how he was about to break out of a slump. Turns out all that energy was for a reason. He went 2-for-3, delivering the key blow of the game in the second inning with a two-run single. It's too soon to declare he's out of his slump, but it was a nice night for the rookie, who carries himself with so much confidence it's hard to tell when he's not playing well. That approach worked last night.
Cristian Guzman: Batting second, and playing second, Guzman struggled against Tommy Hanson, going 0-for-4 for the night with three strikeouts. His average has dipped to .283 for the year.
Adam Dunn: WIth a scout from the Tampa Bay Rays in attendance, Dunn went 0-for-4, striking out twice and missing a chance to add another run in the first inning when he grounded out to second, only moving Ryan Zimmerman to third instead of driving him in.
In Case You Missed It:
--Nyjer Morgan stole two more bases, and has 10 steals in his last 11 attempts. He leads MLB with 10 steals this month, and is starting to be the disruptive force at the top of the lineup that the Nationals need. Desmond and Josh Willingham also stole off Brian McCann, who isn't the game's most gifted defensive catcher. The rest of the series could present some opportunities there.
--The Nationals put an announcement on the scoreboard shortly before 8:00, letting fans know about Strasburg's injury. Like they did when Batista came out of the bullpen, many fans booed the news, and a number of them left when they saw Strasburg wasn't pitching. Pretty clear where the Straswagon riders are.
1. Why all the ripping on Batista? I get that his job isn't glamorous, and he's had some bad outings. But by and large, he's done exactly what you need a long reliever to do: take the ball in any situation, eat innings and be ready to come back and do it again. Did last night's performance make you appreciate him more?
2. I'll have more on this in a little bit, but how worried are you about Strasburg? Are you ready to jump, or did the diagnosis sound manageable enough to you?
Leave your answers in the comments section, as usual. I'll have more in a little bit.