ATLANTA — The big story from the Washington Nationals’ 3-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves Monday night was whatever is ailing Stephen Strasburg. Manager Davey Johnson said it’s forearm tightness. Strasburg himself said he simply didn’t throw enough strikes.
Whatever the issue, it was clear that Strasburg was battling on Monday night. And while the right-hander was adamant that he will make his next start on Saturday without issue, it’s obvious that at least Johnson views this as an issue.
“(Concern for Strasburg) overrides everything,” Johnson said Monday night. “Hopefully he’s going to be all right. We’ll just have to wait and see.”
– There were a few other items of note that came out of the Nationals’ loss, though. Adam LaRoche broke an 0-for-26 skid with his first hit in a week when he laced a single to left center field in the second inning.
“Finally,” he said. “First time in a while I thought I was in a position to hit. I was so tied up on some drivable pitches the past week. I was just borderline lost. So it felt good to kind of slow it down a little bit, to be able to pick the ball up and not try to hit it out of his hand. Slowed it down a little. That’s a start.”
LaRoche spent some time watching video of his swing with former Braves great Chipper Jones on Monday. Jones, who is close friends with LaRoche, stopped by the visitors’ clubhouse and, as he often did when both were active players, got right to work in analyzing LaRoche’s issues at the plate.
“We found a couple things,” LaRoche said. “He’s one who just remembers everything. He knows my swing as well as anybody. He was just thinking back of what he remembered what it used to look like, and then watching a bunch of film, some good swings from last year and some bad ones from this year, trying to compare.
“It was good, kind of reinforcing the things that (hitting coach Rick Eckstein) and I have been talking about. Just to hear it from a different angle, it always helps.”
LaRoche finished the night 1-for-3 with a walk.
– Shortstop Ian Desmond was as animated as he gets on the field late Monday night when he was called out at first base on a grounder to shortstop to open the ninth inning. Andrelton Simmons fielded Desmond’s slow chopper but fell onto his behind as he did it and made the throw to first baseman Freddie Freeman from his backside. Freeman, going into the splits, caught it in a very, very close play at first base.
The replays showed it was extremely close, though it appeared Desmond was safe. Desmond said later it was obvious by his reaction that he felt he was safe. Replay, while often helpful, does lack one vital component that umpires and players use when things are happening live: sound. Desmond could hear when the ball hit Freeman’s glove and he felt he was already on the bag.
He was called out, though, and Craig Kimbrel set down the Nationals in order after that to get the save.
– On the whole, the Nationals know that at 13-13 they have not truly shown the team they can be on a consistent basis. Monday night’s loss reinforced that with several players noting that while they were not happy with the loss, what’s more glaring is the fact that they haven’t played their style of baseball with much continuity to this point in the season.
“We definitely feel that we can play better,” said catcher Kurt Suzuki. “That’s a good team over there but we feel that we’re better than what we’ve been showing. We just have to go, shake it off, and on to the next one and get ready for tomorrow.”
One of the Nationals’ issues this season has been walks, particularly out of the bullpen. On Monday, Stephen Strasburg put the leadoff batter on in five of his six innings of work, three times via a walk. Tyler Clippard then relieved him in the seventh and walked the leadoff batter — who came around to score the winning run.
Johnson called the walks “the kiss of death.”
“You never want to walk a leadoff guy because it always seems they come back to haunt you,” Suzuki said. “When they get a hit, it’s ok. But when they walk, for some reason, they kinda come back. That’s kinda my No. 1 thing. It happens sometimes. (Strasburg) did a good job pitching out of it but in the seventh they got us on that one. There’s nothing you can do.”
“Obviously you don’t want to walk the leadoff guy, you’re never trying to do that,” Clippard said. “But I’ve done it plenty of times in my career and gotten out of it. It’s one of those things, I’ve got all the confidence in the world that runner is not moving off of first. I was just really up in the zone tonight and wasn’t able to execute to stop them from scoring.”