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Washington Nationals Rally Late, But Drop 7-6 Decision To The Atlanta Braves.

VIERA FL - FEBRUARY 25:  Ian Desmond #6 of the Washington Nationals poses for a portrait during Spring Training Photo Day at Space Coast Stadium on February 25 2011 in Viera Florida.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
VIERA FL - FEBRUARY 25: Ian Desmond #6 of the Washington Nationals poses for a portrait during Spring Training Photo Day at Space Coast Stadium on February 25 2011 in Viera Florida. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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• Today's Top 5: 

5. Leadoff Desmond: In his best year in the Nats' system, in 2009, a then-23-year-old Ian Desmond posted a .401 OBP in 97 games and 394 plate appearances between Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse. Over the course of his six seasons in the Expos/Nationals' organization after the Montreal Expos selected him in the 3rd Round of the '04 Draft, Desmond has a .326 OBP though. In 175 games and 663 plate appearances since making his MLB debut in September 2009, Desmond's got a .309 OBP. When it was announced that Desmond would be leading off tonight, with Rick Ankiel batting second it started some chatter in NatsTown south that made its way to Nats' Skipper Jim Riggleman who was asked by's Alden Gonzalez if today's lineup with Desmond leading off and Rick Ankiel hitting second would be the one the Nats go with in 2011:

@AldenGonzalez: "Riggleman, on if Ian would bat 1st if Ankiel wins CF job: "Desmond would be a strong candidate to do that."

Asked late last season about Nyjer Morgan, one of two prospective center fielders, along with Roger Bernadina, who is competing for the center field job, Mr. Riggleman stressed how important it was that Morgan, or any leadoff hitter the Nats used had a high on base percentage...

"Coming into this year, Nyjer was a .360 OBP, .303 lifetime hitter in the big leagues, and so I think, 'Is Nyjer going to be a .303 hitter?' I don't know. But I don't think he's going to be a .250 hitter either. I think somewhere in between is what Nyjer is and I think, his .360 OBP, if we can move back towards that, that would be huge for us to get him back in that area, because that's big, that leadoff hitter OBP is so important, and Nyjer has a bigger history at .360 than he does at .318 where he is now."

For his part, Desmond told's Mr. Gonzalez (@aldengonzalez), as reported on Twitter, that he'd be comfortable in the role as opposed to some others, "Hitting eighth is difficult, hitting first is not."

In the late 2010 press conference referenced above, the Nats' Manager also explained that he thought the Nats had, "about four or five guys that are really well-suited to hit second. Nyjer [Morgan], Ian [Desmond], Espinosa, [Roger] Bernadina, I think all of them are well-suited to hit second," with Morgan the best fit for the Nats' leadoff spot in his estimation.

Desmond has a .321/.354/.487 slash line batting second in 55 games and 244 plate appearances. He's got six at bats as a leadoff man in the majors, but leading of an inning, Desmond's got a .297/.346/.492 slash line. Morgan has a .286/.347/.364 career line as a leadoff man in 259 games and 1155 plate appearances. As a leadoff hitter overall, starting any inning including the first, Morgan's got a .306/.368/.402 line. Roger Bernadina has a .241/.306/.364 career slash line in 163 games and 461 plate appearances in the majors, and the 26-year-old Expos' international signing had a .351 OBP in nine seasons in the minors, with his best year in 2008 when he hit .335 with a .400 OBP and a .490 SLG in 120 games and 518 plate appearances for Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Columbus. Leading off an inning, Bernadina's got a .246/.308/.328 slash line. Espinosa? The '08 3rd Round pick posted a .365 OBP over three seasons in the Nats' system. Nyjer Morgan not succeeding at the plate and struggling with adjustments on the basepaths and in the outfield is forcing the Nationals to make desperate decisions. Like potentially starting Rick Ankiel in center this season...

• Desmond's night: Desmond K'd swinging at a full-count fastball in his first bat, then walked on four pitches to load the bases with two down in the Nats' second only to get stranded when Rick Ankiel K'd swinging. Desmond reached the wall in left-center wall with one-out double in the Nats' fifth, but after a Rick Ankiel walk Jayson Werth rolled a DP grounder to short that ended the inning. Desmond got up against Kenshin Kawakami in the seventh, but rolled a routine grounder to Dan Uggla at second. Desmond ends the night 1 for 3 with a K and a walk. 

4. 1-5-1-3: Yunesky Maya got some help from some poor baserunning by the Braves when Alex Gonzalez hit a grounder back to the mound after a leadoff double by Nate McLouth in the first. Maya helped run down the lead runner between second and third, then threw to first for LaRoche who caught Gonzalez between first and second. That's a 1-5-1-3 DP in your scorebook. Maya hit Jason Heyward and walked Freddie Freeman to put two on with two out in the second before Jordan Schafer's weak grounder to Jerry Hairston at second ended any threat. After quick 1-2-3 third, Maya surrendered a leadoff HR to Chipper Jones in the fourth. Chipper went deep to center high above the 400ft sign to put the Braves up 1-0. A two-out walk to Jason Heyward brought Freddie Freeman up, and he took Maya deep too. Straight center, over the 400ft sign on the wall and gone. 3-0 Braves in a hurry. Maya came back out for the fifth and allowed a one-out single to Nate McLouth and a two-out RBI double to Chipper Jones who put the Braves up 4-0 in the fifth.

Maya's Line: 5.0 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 2 K's, 2 HR's, 4 flyouts, 4 groundouts.

3. Rizzo Quotes: D.C. GM Mike Rizzo sat in with 106.7 the FAN and 1500 WFED's Dave Jageler (who was going Vin Scully solo on the radio with Charlie Slowes out sick) during the broadcast tonight. Here's some of what Mr. Rizzo had to say: 

Mike Rizzo on bringing Maya up last September: "Way too fast. That was my fault. I was overzealous I guess you could say with his experience level and that type of thing, which really put him in an unfair situation by getting him to the big leagues so fast after not pitching for sixteen months since he was playing for the Cuban National team. We signed him, he didn't get much of an opportunity at Triple-A and we threw him into the fire probably way too early..."

Mike Rizzo on roster options: "We've created a roster with some flexibility. We've got guys with options, which we couldn't have said two years ago. We were landlocked with our roster and we couldn't send anybody up and down. This year is different, we've got a bunch relievers that have options, we've got several starters that have options and so we feel that it does take eight or nine starters to get through a season these days so we're happy where we're at."

Mike Rizzo on trading from catching surplus: "We've gotten a lot of calls on our catching corps. A surplus soon turns into a deficiency with a foul tip here and a foul tip there. So for us to move one of these catchers, it would be a major deal for us. We would have to acquire a pitcher that would help us immediately and that would have some upside and be a huge upgrade of what we already have. So, we like the fact that Ramos and Flores both have options to go to the minor leagues. One will stay in the big leagues, one will go to the minor leagues and be insurance for us down the road, get everyday at bats, and you know one of these guys is going to be our everyday catcher in the very near future."

Mike Rizzo on the Nats' bullpen: "I think we're going to decide on a guy to pitch the ninth inning at least early in the season. We're probably going to have a rotation in the bullpen [based] on how things are transpiring. We haven't made a definitive decision right now because it's still early in the Spring." 

2. [Coffey Sprints To Mound]: Nats' reliever Todd Coffey sprinted to the mound tonight in Champion Stadium at ESPN's Wide World of Sports in Kissimmee, FL and promptly got pounded by the home team Braves, who got a sharp single to right by Brian McCann, an RBI double by Dan Uggla and a two-run HR by Jason Heyward off the former Reds' pitcher who signed with Washington this winter. Coffey retired the next three Braves he faced, but only after surrendering three runs on what was unofficially counted as eight pitches. Coffey gave up just a one-out walk in his second inning of work, but the burly right-hander has now given up seven hits, two HR's and six ER in 7.0 IP this Spring. 

1. Rally Caps: Braves' right-hander Scott Proctor struggled almost as much as Coffey as the Nats rallied late with a 6-run eighth to pull within one run of Atlanta. Rick Ankiel reached on a fielding error and after a Jayson Werth walk Adam LaRoche doubled to right-center to score two and make it 7-2. A walk to Mike Morse and a two-out single by Brian Bixler chased Proctor for Braves' right-hander Christhian Ramirez who gave up an RBI single to Jesus Flores, 7-3, and a run-scoring single to center by Alex Cintron which scored one, 7-4. A fielding error by Jordan Schafer on Cintron's hit followed by a throwing error once he recovered it, brought two runs across to make it 7-6, before Jeff Frazier K'd with the tying run on second. 

The Braves got a scoreless ninth from Martinez and held on for the win.