"Erring on the side of caution, I just didn't want him to go out there when he was struggling to get loose in the bullpen pregame." Mike Rizzo defending his decision to relieve Stephen Strasburg from his start Tuesday night.

Stephen Strasburg walks to bullpen to warm up pre-game with pitching coach Steve McCatty.  He never took the mound.  (All photos Cheryl Nichols/Nats NewsNetwork)

THE RESULT:  They played a Major League Baseball game at Nationals Park tonight before a full house.  The partisan crowd saw their starter throw five shutout innings, striking out six along the way.  He gave up just three hits and one walk in one of the best performances by a Nats starter all season.

It just wasn't the guy they all came to see.

Miguel Batista made an emergency start for the Nats tonight and turned in a terrific outing, pacing the Nationals to a 3-0 win over the visiting Atlanta Braves.

But all attention to Batista's performance was diverted to concern and worry over the health of the presumptive No. 1 starter, Stephen Strasburg.

Strasburg was pulled from his scheduled start just moments before the first pitch by General Manager Mike Rizzo.  Strasburg had trouble getting loose in the bullpen warming up, and after talking to pitching coach Steve McCatty and head trainer Lee Kuntz, Rizzo decided to relieve Strasburg from taking the mound against the Braves.

"Stephen was having trouble getting loose in the bullpen, so I pulled the plug on it," Rizzo told reporters gathered at the back of the press box during the game.  "[It was a] precautionary move. Again, erring on the side of caution. I just didn't want him going out there when he was struggling to get loose in the bullpen pregame.

Rizzo indicated that Strasburg had "no symptoms during the week. He had a clean bullpen, he had his side and then the bullpen and played catch yesterday and was fine."

"There's no pain. There's no shooting pains or anything like that in the shoulder or the elbow. He was just struggling to get loose."

Strasburg was evaluated by team doctors during the game, including getting X-Rays and an MRI.  The MRI showed no structural labral, capsule or rotator cuff damage according to the general manger, but did show some mild inflammation.  Rizzo said Strasburg was given some anti-inflammatory medication and would be re-evaluated when he returned to the park Wednesday.

After the game, Rizzo would not speculate on any time-frame for Strasburg pitching again -- or shutting him down.  "I want to see where he's at tomorrow," Rizzo responded to a question about whether Strasburg would skip his next start.  "We're not going to elimate anything, but again, we're going to be cautious with him."

"We're going to use common sense and be cautious like we have. This is a workload he's never seen before."

In nine starts for Washington, Strasburg is 5-2 with a 2.32 ERA, 75 strikeouts and 15 walks in 54 1/3 innings. He has won his past three starts.  His next start, however, is now up in the air.
There was still a game to play though.

Nyjer Morgan created the first run of the game as he singled to lead off in the first, stole second and third, and scored on Braves catcher Brian McCann's throwing error.

Morgan made a concerted effort to pick his team up after Strasburg left the game. 

"Most definitely, just wanted to go out there and keep the crowd in it. Everybody came to see the kid. You know, we have a hell of a team here. Basically, just wanted to go out there and play my game, just try to make it happen and made it happen. Oh yeah, that’s huge for us to get up one nothing, it takes a lot of pressure off the guys. They can get into their game and find their groove from there."

"Even though we lost one of our horses, we’re still professionals. We gotta be able to handle a little bit of adversity, and we definitely handled it tonight."

Washington picked up two more in the second, as Roger Bernadina led off with a hit, Ivan Rodriguez reached on an error by veteran third baseman Chipper Jones, and both scored on a single by Ian Desmond.

It was nice to see the Nats benefitting from the other team's poor defense for a change.
THE GOOD:  Miguel Batista.  He only threw 48 of his 83 pitches for strikes, but that was enough to keep the Braves off the board.  He did a fantastic job under the circumstances, and saved the Nats from a potentially disasterous week of shredding the bullpen.

Sean Burnett, Drew Storen and Matt Capps pitched a total of four innings to complete the shutout.

THE BAD:  Cristian Guzman went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts in the No. 2 hole.

THE UGLY:  Strasburg, obviously.  I'm not going to speculate on the source of the inflammation, but if there is serious injury it would be terrible news to a franchise that really doesn't need any more.  It's a relief to hear the MRI was negative and didn't show any structural damage, but the inflammation had to come from somewhere. 

Hopefully this is just an instance of a little bit of a dead arm period for a rookie in his first year of professional baseball.

Anything more would be devastating.

THE STATS:  The Nats were 1-for-5 with runners in scoring position.  They left four men on base, struck out 10 times and did not walk once.

NEXT GAME:  Wednesday against Atlanta at 7:05 pm.  Livan Hernandez (7-6, 3.12) faces Tim Hudson (10-5, 2.47).