Washington, D.C. -- The Washington Nationals spent the off-season and spring training emphasizing pitching, defense and athleticism. All those things were evident for the Nats on Opening Day, but it appears they should have said something about hitting as well. LINK TO PHOTOS.
Livan Hernandez and Derek Lowe locked up in a classic pitcher's duel in the 41 degree drizzle, dominating the other's batting order.
In the end, Lowe and his Atlanta Braves shut out the Nats 2-0, before a semi-frozen, not-quite sellout crowd at Nationals Park.
Manager Jim Riggleman credited Lowe for his outstanding performance, saying, "He was real good today, the ball was down all day. Good slider, worked fast, all the cliche things that you want. It was just a good pitched ballgame."
Which was true. But the Nats certainly helped Lowe out. Leadoff hitter Ian Desmond went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and two ground outs, leading off every inning he came up.
Lowe threw 105 pitches in his five and two-third innings, but walked just two in addition to three hits -- all singles. He struck out six -- including four called strike threes from home plate umpire Tim Welke, who seemed to have a funny strike zone all day. He sat down 12 of the last 14 hitters he faced, and had one of those runners wiped out on a double play.
Hernandez was terrific in his own right, allowing two earned runs on four hits in six and one-third innings. He struck out three, and did not walk a batter. Jayson Hayward got to him for a line drive homer in the second inning, and Livo retired the next 15 in a row until Brian McCann's leadoff single up the middle to start the top of the seventh.
There's an old adage that pitchers are ahead of the hitters the first few weeks of the season, but today's dominant performances might have had something to do with the frigid temperatures and cold breezes. At least the rain held off to keep things chilly, but playable.
The Nats flashed some leather too, most noticeably their new right fielder, Jayson Werth. Signed to a seven-year, $126 million contract in the off-season, the slugger made two sliding grabs in his new home park to the delight of the fans.
Unfortunately, the Nats hitters weren't up to the task today. Only twice did they have more than one runner on base in an inning, and only twice did they have a runner reach third.
It's going to be a problem all season long for this offense, as it's full of hitters whose career on base percentage leaves something to be desired, excepting the Nos. 2 and 3 hitters in Werth and Ryan Zimmerman.
But let's chalk today's performance up to the cold.
THE GOOD: Livan Hernandez. The wily veteran settled down after Heyward's solo shot and kept the Nats in this one. Danny Espinosa went 2-for-3 with a double to the gap in left center.
THE BAD: Ivan Rodriguez went 0-for-3, grounding out weakly in every at bat.
THE UGLY: On top of Desmond's 0-for-4, Michael Morse struck out twice in his 0-for-4 day and left runners on base with two outs twice. The Nats are going to need him to produce hitting in the fifth spot in the order or they will have a lot of trouble scoring runs.
NEXT GAME: Saturday, April 2 vs. Atlanta at 1:05 pm. LHP John Lannan faces RHP Tommy Hanson.
NATS NOTES: Today's attendance was 39,055, short of a sellout by about 2,000, but there were quite a few more empty seats than that at Nats Park. The weather certainly had something to do with that, but select tickets were available on StubHub prior to the game for $0.75.
Jayson Werth went 1-for-4 in his Nats debut. He singled in the first and took second on Ryan Zimmerman's single to put Lowe in hot water, but was stranded when Adam LaRoche popped out to second and Morse grounded to short.