Nats solve Hudson but still fall to Braves

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ATLANTA | In the doldrums of the Washington Nationals‘ 2008 season, losses tend to pile up, run together and occasionally take on a faceless quality. The games against Atlanta Braves pitcher Tim Hudson do not.

No pitcher has exhibited the kind of mastery over the Nationals’ lineup that Hudson has, and no pitcher tends to tell them quite as much about themselves. When Washington faces Hudson, the game either becomes about what kind of progress the Nationals are making in solving him, or how he continually manages to stay one step ahead of them.

Friday’s game represented the former scenario, the second time in a row Washington has managed to dent Hudson. And yet the Nationals lost.

Despite coaxing five runs out of a lineup that was shifted during batting practice when first baseman Dmitri Young’s blood sugar spiked, Washington couldn’t make up for early mistakes by starter Tim Redding and eventually fell 7-6 to the Braves in their first game after the All-Star break.

“He usually just dominates us,” manager Manny Acta said. “Still, he won the ballgame. He pitched good enough to win. But we did some good things at the plate, which is encouraging.”

That this Nationals lineup, made up of mismatched parts and bearing only token resemblance to the one that weathered a fierce effort from Hudson to beat the Braves on Opening Night, could deny the right-hander a quality start has to register as some kind of accomplishment.

Catcher Johnny Estrada was starting his first game since April after returning from an elbow injury and moved from seventh to fifth in the lineup after Young was scratched. Paul Lo Duca was the team’s No. 2 hitter, moving from left field to first base, and Ryan Langerhans took over the eighth spot in the lineup.

And yet, the five earned runs Washington managed were the most Hudson had ever allowed against the Nationals - or for that matter, the Expos. The first two came courtesy of the kind of resourceful inning Washington has so rarely produced this season.

With Atlanta up 2-0, the Nationals’ third-inning rally had all the elements of unpredictability that have become commonplace from a team that had managed 10 earned runs in 11 appearances against Hudson before Friday night. After Kory Casto and Langerhans got back-to-back hits off the 33-year-old, Redding’s sacrifice bunt - which knocked him down before he could get out of the batters’ box - advanced Langerhans before Lo Duca drove him in with a single.

It merely belabored the bizarreness of the inning when Lo Duca’s stocky legs carried him into second base as he beat Brian McCann’s throw for his first stolen base since May 26, 2007.

And in a larger sense, it showed how costly Redding’s outing was on a night when the Nationals seemed to have offensive grit in reserve.

Redding matched his shortest outing of the year in throwing only four innings, during which he allowed six runs and walked three. Two of those walks turned into runs in the third inning when McCann ripped a change-up for a bases-loaded double to center, giving Atlanta a 5-2 lead that, despite numerous Nationals efforts to wrest it away, the Braves would not relinquish.

“The change-up to McCann, I think the stuff and the location was pretty good,” Redding said. “He was out front, dove and hooked it to right. There’s nothing more I can do with that pitch. I was trying to get a ground ball to get a double play, and that pitch right there is the pitch I would throw over again if I had the opportunity.”

Washington managed three more runs off Hudson, highlighted by a pair of shots down the right-field line (one from Austin Kearns for a double in the sixth and the other from Langerhans for a stand-up triple in the seventh). But after Hudson left for Blaine Boyer, so did a chance to tie the game when Chipper Jones fielded a broken-bat grounder and nipped Kearns at first base with an off-balance throw.

There was time for one more rally in the ninth, when Felipe Lopez scored on Willie Harris’ double. Harris was 90 feet from scoring the tying run when Jeff Francoeur snagged a searing liner from Kearns to end the game.

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