- The Washington Times - Friday, April 4, 2014

Jordan Zimmermann woke up at 2 o’clock Thursday morning flush with sickness. He was supposed to make his first start of the season for the Washington Nationals against the New York Mets that afternoon at Citi Field. But as he plodded restlessly over the next several hours, he knew the likelihood of making that appearance grew bleak.

The worst-case scenario, Zimmermann figured, is that he’d merely take the ball one day later for the Nationals’ home opener against the Atlanta Braves. That’s what he did, though the celebration that kicked off the day didn’t last long into it.

Zimmermann lasted five innings, striking out nine while allowing four hits, but a tiebreaking sacrifice fly in the eighth inning gave the Braves the 2-1 victory on Friday.

The Nationals (3-1) appeared to have that extra run in the fifth inning, when Ian Desmond crossed home on what looked to be an inside-the-park home run. A video review instead left Desmond with only a ground-rule double, and the shortstop was later thrown out attempting to steal third.

“I saw the ball in the corner and I just kept on running,” Desmond said. “I didn’t see the officials, the umpires, say anything, so I just kept on going.”

Desmond lined a pitch from Braves starter David Hale down the left field line in the fifth inning, but as he rounded second base, Braves left fielder Justin Upton put up his hands, the ball resting under the padding in foul territory in the corner.

Umpires declined to grant Upton the relief, causing him to turn around, grab the ball and throw it in as Desmond headed for home. Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez argued the call and requested a review, at which point the run was rescinded.

“It just went under the fence,” Upton said. “Knowing the rule, you put your hands up. I looked in there and it didn’t look like anyone was coming out there. Simmons was panicking, so Ijust picked it up and threw the ball.”

The missing run, as it turns out, was costly. Zimmermann cruised through the first three innings before needing 21 pitches to sit down the side in the fourth.

Braves catcher Evan Gattis then led off the fifth with a home run to left center field that cleared the visitors’ bullpen, and after facing three more batters and right fielder Jason Heyward on second, Zimmermann struck out center fielder B.J. Upton to complete his day’s work.

“I felt like I was still pretty strong,” Zimmermann said. “I just left a few balls up over the middle, and I had to battle a little bit, but I was able to get out of it. That was good.”

Held to five hits over their first five innings by Hale, a righthander making his third career start, Ryan Zimmerman put his team on the board for the first time in the sixth with a sacrifice fly to center field.

The one-out fly ball scored Rendon, who finished 2-for-4 with a pair of singles, but left fielder Bryce Harper stranded first baseman Adam LaRoche on first with a groundout.

Atlanta (3-1) pushed another run across the plate in the eighth, when third baseman Chris Johnson’s sacrifice fly to right field off Tyler Clippard scored Heyward from third. The Nationals threatened to answer in the bottom half of the inning when Rendon and right fielder Jayson Werth reached base to lead it off, but righthander David Carpenter struck out LaRoche, Zimmerman and Harper.

Baserunning miscues also foiled the Nationals’ offense. Harper and Desmond were each caught stealing, while LaRoche, who walked in the third, was waved around by third base coach Bob Henley but cut down by shortstop Andrelton Simmons, the cutoff man, on a double by Zimmerman in the fourth.

“That’s his call,” LaRoche said. “I guess players would like it if their third base coach was aggressive, and if we do that a number of times, it’s going to pay off quite a bit. I didn’t see the relay. I got hung up a little bit at second for just a split-second thinking he might catch it, and obviously, I was thrown out by quite a bit.”

Craig Kimbrel earned the save for the Braves, retiring Desmond, catcher Jose Lobaton and pinch hitter Kevin Frandsen in the ninth. After Zimmermann, Washington tabbed Craig Stammen for two innings, then deferred to Clippard, who took the loss, and Aaron Barrett.

The Nationals have not won their first four games since moving from Montreal. The franchise last started 4-0 in 1983; a Washington team last accomplished the feat in 1913, when the Senators won their first five games.

“It seems like every time we play these guys, it’s really close games,” LaRoche said. “Again, both sides didn’t hit great tonight, but the pitching staff was good. We’re proud of Jordan for going out there on pretty much zero energy and getting five innings for us. It was pretty good.”