"The game just didn't have the same energy as the last two days.  That's what was disappointing.  I just thought we would have carried a little more fire into this ballgame after yesterday." -- Jim Riggleman

Danny Espinosa had a rough day in the field. (C.Nichols/Nats News Network)
Washington, D.C. -- The Washington Nationals thought they were over games like these.  Sadly, it was deja vu all over again, as shoddy defense and lousy relief pitching spelled doom for the home team, as the Atlanta Braves turned an early close game into a laugher, winning the series with an 11-2 decision before 22,210 at Nationals Park.

"The game itself was sloppy," manager Jim Riggleman said. "We just didn't play good baseball today."

Though the Nationals were only charged with one error, several other defensive miscues led directly to runs.  And once Nats starter Jordan Zimmerman departed, the flood gates opened for the Braves, as they batted around in the eighth inning off rookie Rule 5 pick Brian Broderick and journeyman Chad Gaudin.

Second baseman Danny Espinosa was one of the sources of bad defense today.  The rookie second baseman had two plays where it looked like he tried to make the switch to his throwing hand too quickly. 

In the first inning, which probably set the tone for the entire game, Espinosa had a tailor-made ground ball clang off his glove, allowing Nate McLouth to move up to second. Espinosa got the out at first, and since the official scorer can't presume a double-play, the result was a fielder's choice -- not an error.  The next batter, Brian McCann, singled McLouth home for the first run of the game.

In the fifth, things went from bad to ugly.

Alex Gonzalez led off wtith a ball to the track in right center that should have been caught by either center fielder Rick Ankiel or right fielder Jayson Werth.  But both appeared to pull up at the last and the ball ticked off Werth's glove.  Both men then deferred to each other to make the throw, and Gonzalez ended up on third with a triple.

Rick Ankiel and Jayson Werth can't come up with Alex Gonzalez' "triple". (C.Nichols/Nats News Network)
Again, no error on the play, but clearly a defensive breakdown.

Three batters later, and after a walk to pitcher Tim Hudson. Martin Prado hit a ball to almost the exact spot, and neither Ankiel nor Werth could track it down. Espinosa could not come up with the relay cleanly, and after pausing at third, Hudson walked home with the third run for the Braves.

It was the only played scored an error by the official scorer all day.

The Braves picked up two more in the seventh off Todd Coffey and Doug Slaten, and in the eighth, things just fell apart for the pen.

Broderick, making his Major League debut, gave up four runs on two hits and a walk.  And he balked a man home when his spike got caught on the pitching runner and he fell off the mound.  Gaudin fared no better, allowing two earned runs on four successive hits.

Nats starter Jordan Zimmermann deserved a better fate.  All three runs against him (two earned) were the reuslt of shoddy defense.  He went six innings, allowing four hits and three walks, striking out two.  He wasn't masterful, but was good enough today if his defense had performed their jobs.

On the other side, Tim Hudson mowed the Nats hitters down.  He gave up one run on three hits and one walk, striking out five.  After Espinosa's leadoff single in the second  -- which was erased by a double play -- Hudson retired the next 17 hitters until his departure after the seventh.

This game was eerily reminiscent of so many in the first two months of 2009, when the starter would do his job, only to be undermined by the defense and the bullpen.  The only two relievers that didn't pitch today were Sean Burnett and Tyler Clippard, the two men manager Jim Riggleman depends on to protect leads.

The four relievers that Riggleman did trot out there in the decisive innings (Coffey, Slaten, Broderick and Gaudin) faced 18 hitters combined and retired just six.  Three journeymen and a Rule 5 rookie.

After the game, Riggleman said he "didn't want to make excuses" for Slaten and Gaudin, but then did, describing how he had both up several times before bringing them into the game, and how relief pitching is hard.

The Nationals will need to have better production from those guys -- or someone else -- otherwise Burnett and Clippard won't make it until Memorial Day.
_______________________________

THE GOOD:  Jordan Zimmermann.  Defense really let him down.  Retired 11 out of 12 at one point, but got no offensive or defensive support.

THE BAD:  Ian Desmond.  The shortstop, now hitless in three straight games, went 0-for-4 with a strikeout.

THE UGLY:  We'll give Broderick a pass in his MLB debut, so we'll go with Chad Gaudin.  Four consecutive hits after Broderick got lit up. 

NEXT GAME:  Tuesday at Florida Marlins at 7:10 pm.  Jason Marquis v. Anibal Sanchez.

Braves Dan Uggla makes over-the-shoulder catch of Ian Desmond's flare. (C.Nichols/Nats News Network)

3 comments

  1. bdrube // April 3, 2011 at 9:21 PM  

    I'll only give Broderick a pass for it being his major league debut because the man should never have been out there in the first place. It was an absurd notion from the very beginning to think that a Rule 5 pick who has never pitched above AAA and is not a power arm could be "hidden" in our bullpen for an entire season. He clearly isn't ready to pitch in the big leagues, and is lucky he didn't dislocate his shoulder or something on that balk.

    I seem to remember last year when a certain young pitcher made his MLB debut in June. How'd THAT work out, anyway? Maybe it was because he was actually ready to pitch in the majors.

    It is disgraceful that we fans at the park today had to sit through that embarrassment when there are better and more deserving arms languishing at Syracuse.

  2. bdrube // April 3, 2011 at 9:24 PM  

    Oops - I meant AA not AAA. That's what makes it so maddening.

  3. Dave Nichols // April 3, 2011 at 11:51 PM  

    bd: yours is not an uncommon theme. heard a lot of that at the ballpark today. my guess is that we'll see Broderick come down with some strange malady that ends him up on the DL at some point. easier to hide him there.