- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Chien-Ming Wang showed flashes of his former domination Wednesday during his second start since returning from the disabled list. But a throwing error by the Nationals’ starter caused the game to unravel into a 6-4 loss to the Atlanta Braves despite the effectiveness of his signature sinker.

“Overall, I feel better than last time,” Wang said through a translator after the game. “The sinker was sinking today, just the slider wasn’t [working] overall. That’s what happened today.”

Manager Davey Johnson blamed Wang’s trouble on pitch selection more than the quality of the pitches.

“Everything was a lot crisper. He looked stronger. I thought his ball was moving more,” Johnson said. “He threw some good breaking balls. It was a step in the right direction.”

The game at Nationals Park seemed as dreary as the weather after the Braves took a 6-0 lead with four unearned runs in the fifth inning. But although the Nationals were determined not to go quietly, a rain delay put an end to their sixth-inning rally.

After giving up two runs in the first, Wang allowed one hit in the next three frames, throwing just 29 pitches. Trouble struck in the fifth inning, which Wang started by making a throwing error. A single put runners on first and third with no outs. The next two hitters would ground into a fielder’s choice, and it seemed that Wang might escape from the inning unscathed.

But Atlanta capitalized with two outs, when Freddie Freeman hit an RBI single and Dan Uggla delivered a three-run homer. Wang had two strikes on Uggla and hoped to retire him on a slider down and away, but the pitch did not break.

“I felt like he was going to be good since I watched him throw in the bullpen, but I guess he’s still looking for that timing back,” said catcher Jesus Flores. “He started leaving his pitches up today, and we paid for it. His ball was moving good, but they were all balls. Whenever he was trying to come back and look for the play, they put a good swing on those balls.”

Danny Espinosa started the Nationals’ sixth-inning rally with a walk, and Ryan Zimmerman followed with a single. A wild pitch during Michael Morse’s at-bat advanced both runners, and Morse drove in Espinosa with a single.

Washington scored its second run on another wild pitch, and Jayson Werth capped the inning with his 13th home run of the year, a two-run blast on a 90-mph cutter.

But after Laynce Nix drew a walk, a downpour forced a 22-minute delay that seemed to take the life out of the comeback. Ian Desmond and Flores struck out looking after the tarp was removed. Pinch-hitter Brian Bixler drew a walk, but Rick Ankiel flied out to end the inning with the Nationals still behind 6-4.

Wednesday’s loss put an end to a four-game winning streak, but Washington has won its past two series after being swept by Florida to open the homestand that ended Wednesday.

“We won two out of three the last two series,” Zimmerman said. “That’s all you can ask. That’s our rule - every time to win the series. A sweep is a bonus. Obviously, you’d like to continue to win games, but that’s a very good team over there that we took two out of three from, and we should be proud of that.”

NOTES: Stephen Strasburg is scheduled to make his first rehab start at Hagerstown on Sunday. He will follow a regular starter’s schedule, pitching every five days throughout August. If he progresses well, he will join the Nationals in early September.

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