Nationals drop opener of doubleheader, 4-2, to Giants

The Nationals may have had their spirits lifted by the news that Bryce Harper's knee injury is not as serious as they initially feared, but that wasn't enough to overcome a lack of sleep (or the Giants pitching staff) during today's doubleheader opener on South Capitol Street.

Rookie right-hander Chris Stratton tossed seven scoreless innings, and the Nationals couldn't mount enough of a rally late during a 4-2 loss to San Francisco, a sour opening to a long day of baseball.

Taking the field fewer than 12 hours after Friday night's rain-delayed game ended, the Nats did so without their star right fielder and No. 3 hitter. Harper, who went down in a heap after slipping on first base in the first inning Friday night, did get encouraging news this morning when an MRI revealed only a significant bone bruise and no ligament or tendon damage.

The Nationals are hopeful Harper will return before the end of the season, but they're still going to be without him for some period of time. And the lineup Dusty Baker fielded today struggled to account for his loss.

rendon-in-white-homer.jpgWith a few other regulars resting before tonight's game, the Nats were stymied most of the afternoon at the plate. They finally broke through in the eighth, when Anthony Rendon homered off Hunter Strickland (who was heartily booed by a crowd of 30,866 that hasn't forgotten the right-hander's intentional plunking of Harper on Memorial Day).

But that was the extent of the offense in the opener, with Giants closer Sam Dyson finishing things off in the ninth.

If nothing else, the Nationals needed innings out of A.J. Cole in the opener of a doubleheader, even with Max Scherzer slated to start the nightcap. Two innings in, it didn't look like the young right-hander was going to be up to the task, but he wound up righting his ship and finished strong.

The blip for Cole came in a three-run top of the second, an inning that included three hits and two walks, with RBIs coming from Gorkys Hernández and Joe Panik. When the inning came to an end, Cole's pitch count already stood at 47, an ominous sign.

But the 25-year-old bounced back quickly and wound up retiring 10 of the last 11 batters he faced, closing out his afternoon by stranding two men in scoring position with a ground ball to short on his 100th pitch.

With Stephen Strasburg making a rehab start Monday for Single-A Potomac and potentially on track to return from his elbow injury next weekend in San Diego, this might have been Cole's final start for the Nationals for a while. He gave his team a chance in this one, but his lineup didn't do much to take advantage of the situation.

The Nats couldn't push across a run in seven innings against Stratton, who in his third career start struck out 10 for the first time and scattered five singles and a walk. They finally gave themselves a chance with two on and two out in the bottom of the seventh, but pinch-hitter Daniel Murphy skied a fly ball to left field off left-handed reliever Josh Osich to end that rally.

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