Nationals win, sweep Braves in Atlanta

Nats winningThe Washington Nationals won a battle of pitchers and defense tonight, coming from behind to defeat the Atlanta Braves 3-1 at Turner Field. The win improves Washington’s record to 2-0. Washington will be in DC tomorrow for their 2016 home opener against the Miami Marlins on Thursday.

The Nats got some good news when the Philadephia Phillies and Miami Marlins both lost today, dropping each team to 0-2.  Washington are alone in first place, one game ahead of the 1-1 New York Mets.

Starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg [1-0], set a franchise record in the third inning tonight when he struck out his 904th batter. That passed the departed Jordan Zimmerman, who struck out 903. Strasburg finished the game with four strikeouts and 905 for his career.

The game was scoreless through three-and-a-half innings, until the Braves took a 1-0 lead when A.J. Pierzynski hit a line drive single to center, scoring Nick Markakis. However, Strasburg held the Braves there, keeping the game close and giving his offense a chance to win the game.

Meanwhile, the defense was doing its part to keep the game close. CF Michael Taylor, playing in place of Ben Revere, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a rib injury suffered in the season opener, threw out both Adonis Garcia and Pierzynski at second base in the the fourth inning as they tried to stretch singles into doubles.

Strasburg was strong, though not great, pitching six innings and giving up six hits, one run and three walks to go with his four strikeouts. However, he didn’t receive any offensive support until he’d left the game.

Trailing 1-0 in the seventh, 1B Ryan Zimmerman singled and then scored from second on some inspired and daring baserunning. Catcher Wilson Ramos hit a chopper to shortstop and the throw was late. Zimmerman ran hard on the play, rounding third and while the throw from home appeared to beat him, Pierzynski didn’t have the ball in his glove and Zim was safe to tie the game. Ramos took advantage of the wild throw home by Freddie Freeman to advance to second base.

SS Danny Espinosa was given an intentional walk, bringing up Strasburg. Manager Dusty Baker inserted Matt den Dekker into the lineup to hit for Strasburg. den Dekker had only been called up hours earlier to replace Revere on the active roster and barely arrived at the ballpark in time to do what he did. In fact, Baker told reporters before the game he did not know when den Dekker would arrive.

“He might be here in the eighth or ninth to win it,” Baker said.

Baker’s guess was off by an inning.

den Dekker slapped a pitch into deep right-center field, easily scoring Ramos and Espinosa and putting the Nationals up 3-1.

Reliever Shawn Kelly took the mound for Washington in the seventh, but only for one out. Then manager Dusty Baker called on Felipe Rivero, who tossed a five-out, 23-pitch gem with two strikeouts to get the hold and send the game to the ninth inning, where closer Jonathon Papelbon took over.

Papelbon’s second save opportunity this season wasn’t as smooth as his first, as he gave up singles to Garcia and Markakis. However, with two outs and runners on second and third, Papelbon struck out Pierzynski to end the game and get his second save of the season.