ATLANTA - It actually can get worse. On a night the where Nationals racked up as many errors as runs in an 8-4 loss to the Braves, most of the postgame clubhouse chatter surrounded a questionable play in the fifth inning that knocked third baseman Yunel Escobar from the game.
I guess it’s better than talking about why they only managed four hits on Braves starter Eric Stults, who brought a 4.50 ERA into the game.
Either way, in the fifth inning, starter Doug Fister launched a pickoff attempt past first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons, the runner, sprinted all the way to third on the play. Second baseman Danny Espinosa, backing up Zimmerman, collected the ball and fired a strike to third baseman Yunel Escobar. The throw beat Simmons to the bag, but his aggressive slide not only jarred the ball loose but also knocked Escobar’s glove completely off.
Nationals manager Matt Williams rushed out of the third base dugout to tend to Escobar, who was down on one knee and holding his left hand.
“My initial reaction was that he was cut up pretty bad,” Williams said.
Escobar’s bloodied hand was cut in two places by Simmons’ spikes. Escobar did not require stitches or x-rays, but the nine-year veteran said he expects to miss a day or two.
Williams said everything by choosing not to answer when asked after the game if Simmons slide was fair.
“I’m not gonna comment on that,” he said.
Right fielder Bryce Harper wasn’t as tight-lipped on the slide.
“Andrelton plays with a lot of energy and is a good player but that’s a BS slide,” said Harper. “That’s something you don’t do. It’s just not smart. If he goes and looks back at it, he might see that it wasn’t a good idea. But, like I said, he plays with a lot of energy, so I respect that, but that slide was definitely uncalled for.”
Nats shortstop Ian Desmond, who committed his ninth error of the month, was behind the play and initially didn’t get a good look at what happened.
“I heard some frustration in the dugout,” Desmond said. “I went back and looked at the video and saw that it was a pretty ugly slide. So obviously, at that point, you get mad. That kid’s a good player. He plays with a lot of energy. But he’s got to be way smarter than that. That was ugly. It looked ugly. I’m sure when he goes back and looks at it, hopefully he learns from it.”
“But there’s a right way to play the game and a wrong way, and that was not right.”
The Nationals chose to teach Simmons the rules in his next at-bat in the seventh when right-hander Rafael Martin plunked him on the first pitch.
“I kind of knew,” Simmons said. “They were looking at me kind of bad after the slide. So in my mind it might happen.”
Simmons also defended his slide after the game.
“I was going hard,” Simmons said. “Just going hard and trying to go right for the bag. It’s bad that somebody got hurt. Hopefully, it’s not that bad, but I was just trying to play hard.”
The scariest part of the Nats’ six game losing streak is that it includes four straight poor performances from their so called historic rotation. And their ace Max Scherzer will miss his scheduled start Tuesday with a swollen right thumb. So Williams and the Nats will turn to 23-year-old prospect A.J. Cole to make his major league debut at Turner Field in place of Scherzer.
How about that for some pressure? Go stop a six-game losing streak in your first game in the bigs.
Meanwhile, Harper theorized that the brouhaha surrounding Escobar and Simmons might actually light a fire under the slumping Nationals.
“Maybe that’s what we needed a little bit, a little kick in the butt to get us going a little bit,” Harper said. “Hopefully, we go out there tomorrow and play with some attitude and win some ballgames.”