At some point before today's game, when he wasn't busy helping Adam LaRoche (0 for his last 26 w/ 13 Ks) pore over video to figure out what was going wrong for the left-handed hitting first baseman at the plate, Chipper Jones talked to ESPN's Rick Sutcliffe. Sutcliffe said on SportsCenter before tonight's game that he asked Atlanta's 1990 no.1 overall pick if he thought the Washington Nationals' 2010 no.1 Draft pick, Bryce Harper, reminded him of a young Chipper Jones? "He goes, 'You're wrong,'" Sutcliffe recounted, "'He's way better than I ever was.'" Harper entered today's game with a .360/.444/.756 line, five doubles and nine HRs 24 games and 99 plate appearances into his second major league season.
The Nats' 20-year-old outfielder stepped in for the first time tonight against 22-year-old Braves' right-hander Julio Teheran with one out and a runner on first after Denard Span's leadoff single and Danny Espinosa's swinging K started the game. Span got picked off by Atlanta's young right-hander with Harper at the plate, however, so of course Harper lined a double to right that would have scored him from first if Span were still on the basepaths. Double no.6 of the year for Harper, but he was left on base when Werth flew to B.J. Upton in center to end the top of the frame.
Stephen Strasburg bounced a full-count pitch off umpire Laz Diaz's ankle to walk Jordan Schafer in the first at bat of the Braves' first. Schafer stole second as Strasburg struck Andrelton Simmons out with a 95 mph 1-2 heater, and in the next at bat Justin Upton connected with a 94 mph 1-1 pitch and lined it the other way to bring his fellow outfielder in and make it a 1-0 Braves' lead early. Freddie Freeman singled to left for a second-straight hit off the Nats' starter, but a relayed throw from Bryce Harper to Ian Desmond got Freeman at first on a call the Braves' first baseman and manager vociferously objected to. Two down, and a groundout to short by Chris Johnson ended the first after 20 pitches by Strasburg.
Adam LaRoche snapped his hitless streak with a line drive to left-center that fell in for a leadoff single in the top of the second. Ian Desmond followed with a line drive to right for the second straight hit for the Nats. Teheran got a called strike with a low fastball on a 3-0 pitch to Chad Tracy, but the veteran bench bat getting a rare start singled to right on the 3-1 pitch and drove LaRoche in to tie it at 1-1. A fourth-straight hit followed with Kurt Suzuki scoring Desmond from second, 2-1, but Strasburg K'd trying to bunt and Tracy got caught too far off the bag by Braves' catcher Gerard Laird for a strike'em out throw'em out double play and Denard Span K'd swinging to stop the rally there, after pushing Teheran up to 46 pitches in a 26-pitch frame.
Given a lead to work with, Strasburg started the Braves' second against second baseman Dan Uggla, who entered the game 9 for 20 in his career vs the Nats' right-hander. Uggla was 10 for 21 after lining a single to center. Danny Espinosa lost the ball transferring it from glove to hand on a potential 6-4-3 off Gerald Laird's bat. Uggla went in hard to help break it up, but Strasburg had two outs and he got Teheran looking with a 1-2 heater for out no.3 of a 13 pitch second. 33 overall for the Nats' starter.
Julio Teheran threw a quick, 10-pitch, third in which Danny Espinosa singled and Bryce Harper grounded into a 3-6-3 before Jayson Werth flew out to right to leave the Braves' starter at 56 overall, down 2-1 in the after two and a half. Strasburg issued his second walk of the game to Jordan Schafer in the first at bat of the Braves' half of the inning. Andrelton Simmons jumped on a 95 mph first-pitch fastball and took it for a ride, but Denard Span caught it on the track to the left of center and Strasburg got a 5-4-3 inning-ending DP from Justin Upton in the next AB to end a nine-pitch frame at 42 pitches total.
Ian Desmond and Chad Tracy were each 2 for 2 after they hit back-to-back one-out singles again in the top of the fourth. Desmond tagged and took third on a fly to center by Kurt Suzuki, but Stephen Strasburg K'd swinging to end the inning and send himself back out to the mound. Strasburg was all over the place walking Freddie Freeman in the home-half of the fourth. His curve was on-point when he dropped it on Chris Johnson, however, and got a called strike three with the 79 mph 0-2 pitch he set up with back-to-back mid-90's heaters. Dan Uggla was 2 for 2 and 11 for 22 overall vs Strasburg after lining to left with one on and one out. An 0-2 fastball down low got B.J. Upton swinging for out no.2 and K no.4, but Gerald Laird lined to right to score Freeman just a moment before a cut throw caught Uggla at third. Tied at 2-2 after four.
After the offense picked him up, Julio Teheran responded with a 10-pitch, 1-2-3 top of the fifth against Span, Espinosa and Harper.
Strasburg started the bottom of inning at 60 pitches. His 63rd was lined to right by the opposing pitcher. Jordan Schafer walked for the third time tonight earning Strasburg a visit from Nats' pitching coach Steve McCatty. Harper made a sliding catch on a pop to left by Andrelton Simmons for out no.1. Justin Upton worked the count full but K'd swinging on a 96 mph heater in under the hands. Freddie Freeman was ahead in the count, 3-1 and he crushed the 95 mph 3-1 fastball he got but lined it right at Nats' third baseman Chad Tracy. 3 outs. 2-2 after five. The 20-pitch inning had Strasburg at 80 overall, 44 strikes.
Jayson Werth's leadoff single in the sixth was the Nats' 10th hit. Adam LaRoche walked in the next at bat to put two on for Ian Desmond, but the Nats' shortstop K'd swinging at a 1-2 slider outside like it was 2010 again. Jordan Walden took over for Teheran there, struck Chad Tracy out and got a fly to right from Kurt Suzuki. Two more stranded by the Nats. 2-2 game. Strasburg retired the first batter of the inning for the first time tonight in the sixth when he got Chris Johnson and had him cursing with a 1-2 change. Dan Uggla K'd swinging through another brutal 2-2 change for out no.2 and K no. 7. B.J. Upton missed a 97 mph 1-2 fastball on the 13th pitch of Strasburg's final frame. 6.0 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, 8 Ks, 93 P, 53 S, 3/3 GO/FO.
Jordan Walden needed 15 pitches the Nats in order in the 7th. In the bottom of the inning, Tyler Clippard took over on the mound for the Nationals and issued the fourth leadoff walk of the night to Gerald Laird, putting the leadoff runner on for the 6th time in seven innings tonight. Tyler Pastornicky bunted Laird over and Jordan Schafer put himself on for the first time tonight with a line drive to right. Schafer stole second on a 1-0 pitch to Andrelton Simmons and took third when Simmons lined to right to score Laird. 3-2 game. Runner on third in spite of a close play on a throw from home after Werth's throw to Suzuki sailed wide of the plate. The Nationals appealed to third to see if Laird left too soon, but the umpires said, "No." 3-2 game. A 1-2 fastball got Justin Upton swinging to end the inning and it had him bat-slammingly mad.
After Eric O'Flaherty retired the Nationals in order in a 13-pitch eighth, Drew Storen came on for the Nats and threw a nine-pitch, 1-2-3 inning of his own. Craig Kimbrel came on to pitch the top of the ninth and had a close call go his way when Ian Desmond grounded to short and Andrelton Simmons threw from the seat of his pants after falling while fielding it and Freddie Freeman stretched to catch it just in time according to the ump. Chad Tracy K'd swinging for out no.2, leaving it up to Kurt Suzuki, who popped to first to end it.
Braves win, 3-2 final. 4-0 vs Nats this year.
Nationals now 13-13.