Late flight, quick turnaround force lineup changes (Nats lose 4-2)

It was 4:20 p.m., 2 hours and 45 minutes away from first pitch, and Dusty Baker was still in street clothes. A decent number of Baker's players had yet to arrive in the clubhouse, with reporting time pushed all the way back to 4:45 p.m., much later than normal. Batting practice? That was canceled.

Such were the accommodations the Nationals had to make after a 4:30 a.m. arrival from Houston following Thursday night's game, with the opener of this weekend's series against the Mets looming at 7:05 p.m.

And this isn't the first time they've dealt with those kind of turnarounds following night games on travel days during a season with a schedule the likes of which Baker has never experienced before.

Baker-Arms-Crossed-White-Sidebar.jpg"Yeah, it's the one of the toughest ones I've seen," the 68-year-old manager said. "And we've got some more coming. We've got two or three more late-arrival trips. Boy, we've got to do something about this in the future."

They actually will be doing something about this next season. Baseball's new collective bargaining agreement, which was ratified in December, will require getaway day games any time a team needs to fly at least 2 1/2 hours afterward. That provision wasn't implemented this season, though, because the 2017 schedule already was set before the CBA was ratified.

Given the situation they faced today, Baker didn't hesitate to sit regulars Ryan Zimmerman, Anthony Rendon and Matt Wieters. That left a lineup with only one player from the Nationals' opening day lineup: Daniel Murphy. (Single-A Potomac actually had two opening day Nats players starting tonight, with Trea Turner and Jayson Werth on rehab.)

"So that's why the lineup is the way it is today," Baker said. "Cause I've got some guys that are, not ailing, but some guys that are fatiguing. And when you get guys that are tired, then you get fatigued, that's when you get injured. And we don't need any more injuries. Plus our secondary guys have been doing the job. So I was thinking about (San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg) Popovich, who I like a lot. He kind of preserves his guys, at the expense of getting fined. I hope I don't get fined."

Update: With three innings down, the Nationals trail 1-0, but it could've been worse. A.J. Cole labored through a long top of the first that included 36 pitches to only seven batters, with four of them reaching base. Only one scored, though, thanks to a fortuitous bounce: Domonic Smith's single up the middle clipped second base umpire Andy Fletcher. Yoenis Céspedes would've scored from second base, but the rule on such a play is that runners are awarded only one base, so Cespédes had to go back to third. Actually, pinch-runner Matt Reynolds had to go back to third after Cespédes hurt himself running from second to home on the play. Weird stuff.

Update II: With six innings in the books, this is still a 1-0 game. It wasn't always pretty, but Cole managed to go six innings, allowing only the early run on four hits, striking out eight to match a career high while throwing 108 pitches. Solid effort, in the end. The Nats, though, have yet to score off Jacob deGrom, who has tossed six innings of three-hit ball on 77 pitches.

Update III: The Nats faced a tough enough challenge trying to score one run off deGrom tonight. Now they'll need at least three to keep this game going. The Mets tacked on two insurance runs off Matt Grace in the top of the eighth, so the deficit is now 3-0.

Update IV: That's a final. The Nats made it interesting, finally getting one off deGrom in the eighth, then getting a solo homer from Adam Lind off AJ Ramos in the ninth, then loading the bases and bringing the winning run to the plate. But that's where the rally fizzled. The Mets tacked on another run in the top of the ninth off Joe Blanton, and so this one is in the books as a 4-2 New York victory.

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