This week hasn’t been pleasant to the Nationals. After starting this homestand with two big wins over the Brewers, it’s been all downhill since.
Looking to avoid their third sweep in as many weeks, the Nationals dropped another dud in the form of an 8-2 loss to the Braves in front of 21,153 fans at Nationals Park.
The Nats had nothing going against Braves starter Spencer Strider. The rookie brought his good stuff to his fourth straight start, putting away hitters with his triple-digit fastball and sharp slider.
Strider’s fastball averaged 98.8 mph and topped out at 100.9 mph, with the Nats swinging late on it all night. Then the slider was a great putaway pitch as it was thrown for strikes 43 percent of the time.
“He was good. He hit 100-101 (mph)," manager Davey Martinez said after the game. "But more so his breaking ball was good and he threw it for strikes. When a guy's like that, he's tough locating his fastball. He was tough."
The Nationals had struck out six times before getting their first baserunner of the night thanks to a two-bag error by third baseman Austin Riley on Victor Robles’ hot shot down the line.
With nine strikeouts on the night and two outs in the fifth, it looked like Strider was on his way to doing something no pitcher has ever done: No-hitting the Nationals. But Luis García put a stop to history with his second homer of the season, a 420-foot blast to center field that was 108.6 mph off the bat.
“In the first at-bat, I was looking for that fastball," García said via interpreter Octavio Martinez. "He won the battle in the first at-bat. In the second at-bat, same thing, looking for that fastball. I got to a 3-1 count and I made sure I was ready for it.”
"It goes to show you how quick Luis' bat is because he hit the ball really well," Davey Martinez said. "He's gonna hit, the kid's gonna hit. So I love that."
One was enough to end the no-hitter bid, but it was the only hit the Nats would manage off the Braves young right-hander, who looks like he could be a tough matchup for years to come. After his leadoff walk in the sixth came around to score after he had exited the game, Strider finished with the one hit, two runs, two walks and a career-high 11 strikeouts over 5 ⅔ innings.
“He would throw fastballs, but it was more, he started guys off with breaking balls and then mixed in his fastball and then went back to breaking balls," Davey Martinez said. "So it was tough at-bats all night. When he was going good there for a while, it was tough.”
“In reality, I don't know what to tell you," García said of what made Strider so successful. "I really don't know if I can say it's one thing or another. He was mixing up his pitches very well. Maybe that was it, but there's been like nothing in particular.”
On a night when the Nationals really needed it, Erick Fedde was not nearly as effective or efficient, pitching only one clean frame over his 5 ⅓ innings. The right-hander threw a season-high 111 pitches and his team needed every one of them to try to preserve as much of the battered bullpen as possible.
“I was honestly pretty happy with it," Fedde said of his outing. "The best I felt maybe all year. Just felt like I had a lot of wasted pitches and probably counts that I could have executed a little better. But even the two hits I gave up runs on, I was pretty happy with the pitches I made. So just a little unfortunate there.”
To his credit, Fedde’s outing was the longest by a Nationals starting pitcher since Patrick Corbin completed six-plus innings on Saturday. But it still wasn’t as much as Davey Martinez would have liked.
“Unfortunately, he could do it two ways: He could throw 100 pitches and four innings, or he could throw 100 pitches in six or seven,” Davey Martinez said of Fedde before the game.
Right in the middle of that is where Fedde landed tonight.
After a 17-pitch first inning, Fedde almost got out of the second, but Orlando Arcia's shot down the third base line was too hot for Maikel Franco to handle and Marcell Ozuna scored from third for a 1-0 Braves lead.
Then the Nats starter loaded the bases with two outs in the fourth and gave up a two-run single to Michael Harris II to make it 3-0 Braves. By the time that inning ended, Fedde was already at 85 pitches.
“I'm gonna give props to Fedde because he battled and battled all night," Davey Martinez said after the game. "They fouled some balls off. The walks and, like I said before the game, the 0-2s to 3-2s. He was 3-2 to a lot of hitters today. But he battled through and he knew what we were up against in the bullpen.”
“I lobbied to stay out there for the sixth," Fedde said. "I know with the doubleheader coming up and just kind of the week we've had as a team. You know, I have an extra day coming up before Baltimore. So if I would have had it my way, I probably would have stayed out there until I finished that inning. But definitely the pitch count got up there.”
You would have thought the Nationals were far and away out of this game. But the run scored on Keibert Ruiz’s RBI single in the sixth actually made it a 3-2 game. Unfortunately, that score didn’t last long.
Steve Cishek issued a leadoff walk and a two-run home run to Riley to start the seventh for a 5-2 Braves lead. And then Carl Edwards Jr. surrendered a leadoff home run to Orlando Arcia and another two-run homer to Riley in the eighth to make it 8-2.
If there is one positive to take away tonight it’s that only Cishek, Edwards and Francisco Perez were needed out of the bullpen.
So it is that the Nationals have been swept five times this season and in each of the last three weeks: May 30-June 1 against the Mets in New York, last week against the Marlins in Miami (the second of the season) and now this week against the Braves here in D.C. Crazy that all three have come at the hands of division rivals.
They are now 23-42 on the season and 5-20 (.200) against the National League East.