Nationals now focus on “big series” in Atlanta starting tonight

The Nationals have 14 games remaining against the first-place Braves, who hold a 6 1/2-game lead in the National League East. But the Nats are only five games back in the loss column following Wednesday’s 9-2 loss at Baltimore.

Tonight they embark on a critical four-game set at SunTrust Park. Right-hander Stephen Strasburg (11-4, 3.46 ERA) takes on right-hander Julio Teheran (5-6, 3.71) in the series opener. All four games begin after 7 p.m.

Assembled media spoke to Nationals manager Davey Martinez in his cramped office at Oriole Park at Camden Yards following the final game against the Orioles. The clock was close to striking midnight in Baltimore, less than 24 hours from their scheduled game in Cobb County, Ga.

“We gotta get on that plane, get some rest and turn around and go play the Braves,” Martinez said. “I’ve got all the faith in the world these guys will be up for it and ready. So just today we didn’t hit the ball, we had one good opportunity, couldn’t get any big runs. But sometimes you got to win the 2-1 games, and today we just didn’t do it.”

eaton-running-gray-at-rockies-sidebar.jpgRight fielder Adam Eaton had the best game offensively for the Nationals with a double and two RBIs. He said big league hitters understand the overnight schedule and how they must forget this game and move onto a bigger game quickly in a matter of hours.

The Braves lost to the Brewers 5-4 Wednesday afternoon at Miller Park.

“They had a day game today,” Eaton said. “It is what it is. Our schedule hasn’t been the best all year, realistically. We haven’t had too many rain delays and too many cancellations, but it seems like with travel and planes and trains and all kinds of stuff it’s been kind of hectic. But we are professionals. We got to put on our shows just like them and grind it out. See what we’re made of.”

The way the schedule was set up, the Nats and Braves have so far played only five times out of 19 regular season matchups. They have eight games remaining in Atlanta, six in D.C. Four of them take place this weekend in Georgia, and the Nats return for four more Sept. 5-8 at SunTrust Park. The next matchup at Nats Park between the clubs is not until July 29-31.

How important is this series?

Martinez said during his postgame media session that he is not worried about who will be his fifth starter after Austin Voth and Erick Fedde pitched well in Baltimore. He said his focus is on Strasburg tonight.

“That’s what I’m worried about,” the skipper said, not the entire four-game block.

“Moreso than a series, let’s just kind of focus on the game (tonight),” he said. “The Braves are ahead of us. I get it. We all get it. Let’s just worry about, focus on tonight. I’ve said this before, we go 1-0 tonight and then we’ll go from there.”

The Nationals have made this season a conversation thanks to a 31-13 (.705) record that dates back to May 23. But they still have work to do, because the Braves have continued to play very well. Atlanta has won eight of their last 11 games.

“Big series coming up,” Eaton said. “We got to wash it and go into Atlanta, four games that are really important to us. We got to put a good foot forward, and it’s not going to make or break our season, by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s going to be a good test for us. We are really looking forward to it.”

Eaton believes one key to the Nats’ success, and to their ability to quickly refocus after a rain-delayed, late-night loss, is the makeup of a mostly experienced clubhouse.

“We got a lot of good veterans on this team,” Eaton said. “That’s one thing that the Nationals this offseason really valued, is going out and getting the guys, the older guys, that have been there, done that, kind of steer the ship.

“Having the veterans in this club has really shown throughout this season,” he concluded. “How we started off, and now how we’re playing. It won’t be any different (tonight) when we are all tired and a little jet-lagged. Boys will get us going in the right direction and make sure we are ready for that game.”

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