- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 13, 2013

A couple of very frustrating losses in the opening two weeks of a long baseball season are no more reason for angst than an exciting victory is during the same timeframe.

The loss of a key player, however, can be damaging no matter when it happens.

The Nationals dropped a 3-1 decision to the Atlanta Braves on Saturday before 41,992 at Nationals Park. Two runs Atlanta shouldn’t have had put the Braves in control and they made them stand up behind the pitching of vetern Tim Hudson. The loss came a day after Atlanta rallied from a 4-1 deficit to win 6-4 in extra innings.

At least Washington came out of Friday’s disappointment in good physical health. Not so Saturday, as catcher Wilson Ramos injured his left hamstring trying to beat out a ground ball in the eighth.

He will be further evaluated on Sunday, manager Davey Johnson said, but “that’s generally a couple of weeks, at least. Pretty deep pull. We’ll see how he comes out of it [Sunday]. It’s something you don’t rush back.

“That’s the heartbreak of the day.”

Jhonathan Solano, who played 12 games with the Nationals last season, was pulled out of AAA Syracuse’s lineup soon after Ramos was injured.

Ramos, who came back from a serious knee injury suffered last season to start the 2013 opener, is hitting .300 with two home runs. He’s been splitting time with Kurt Suzuki, who will do most of the catching while Ramos is sidelined.

“To see him come back strong and have such a good start of the season, to see him go down again is frustrating for us and I’m sure more frustrating for him,” second baseman Danny Espinosa said.

Ramos was receiving treatment on the injury and not available for comment.

On the field, the Nats were stymied by the 38-year-old Hudson and their own inability to close out an inning before the Braves could do some damage.

Hudson gave up four hits in seven innings before yielding to relievers Eric O’Flaherty and Craig Kimbrel. One of those hits was Espinosa’s first home run of the season, coming in the fifth inning.

From there, Braves pitchers retired the next 13 Nationals. 

Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg wasn’t as sharp early, though he settled in nicely. He should have left after his six innings with no runs allowed. With two outs, Ryan Zimmerman’s throwing error allowed Justin Upton to reach base. A botched pickoff put Upton on second.

So after two failed chances to get Upton out, rookie Evan Gattis parked a Strasburg pitch into the stands beyond Atlanta’s bullpen for his fourth home run.

“Guy’s up there hacking. Throw one at his neck and he tomahawks it out,” Strasburg said. “I think the previous at-bat, I was missing up there a little bit. I decided to go fastball away and I did it again and he ran into one.”

It was Zimmerman’s second error of the season – and of the series.

“I should have set my feet,” he said. “That’s why it is so frustrating. I had time. I should have set my feet and made a strong throw like I’ve been doing all year on those balls.

“It’s unfortunate. That was a big part of the game. But it happens.”

Atlanta will go for the sweep on Sunday at 1:35 p.m. when it sends Paul Maholm to the mound against Gio Gonzalez in a battle of left-handers. Despite having a couple of key injuries, Atlanta is off to a 10-1 start and out to a three-game lead over the Nats.

“Honestly, I think our lineup is better,” Strasburg maintained. “They’re hot right now. It’s early. It’s not about how many wins you necessarily finish with in April. It’s how many you have at the end of the year.”

Said Espinosa: “They’re good. I don’t think they’re better than us. They’re a good ballclub. They have talent. They’re hot right now. They’ve lost one game. They’ve come back in a couple of games. It all evens out.”