GAME IN A NUTSHELL: It's a Nats-Braves game in Atlanta, so of course something strange was going to happen. Like Nate McLouth dropping a routine flyball while trying to transfer the ball to his throwing hand. Or Adam LaRoche cleanly catching a low line drive but having no ability to question the call of a groundball because the Nationals had already burned up their challenge for the game. Or Ryan Zimmerman getting picked off second base and injuring his right thumb in the process.
Wackiness aside, this game was won in the bottom of the first, when the Braves pounced on Taylor Jordan for four quick runs. Despite battling the rest of the night and managing to limit the damage despite three errors and untold other mistakes, the Nationals couldn't overcome their inability to produce in the clutch. Thus they dropped another game at Turner Field and now head into Sunday's series finale a desperate (and banged-up) team.
HITTING LOWLIGHT: You can't say they didn't have their chances. They put the leadoff man on base in six of the game's first eight innings. They had tons of baserunners. But they went 1-for-16 with runners in scoring position, the lone hit coming on Sandy Leon's RBI single in the top of the eighth. LaRoche had the roughest night of anyone, going 0-for-5 with four strikeouts and heading home wearing the ignominious Golden Sombrero.
PITCHING LOWLIGHT: With an overworked bullpen, the Nationals needed innings tonight from Jordan. They did manage to get five of them, but they weren't exactly quality innings. Jordan was battered around for four runs in the bottom of the first, with nearly every ball crushed. He managed to limit the damage after that, but he still found himself in trouble all night, failing to record a single 1-2-3 inning. Ultimately, it took 102 pitches for Jordan to make it through his five innings. He might well have gotten the hook earlier if the Nationals had more fresh arms in the pen.
INJURY UPDATE: Already without Denard Span (concussion), Wilson Ramos (broken hand) and Jayson Werth (groin), the Nationals lost Zimmerman to an apparent right thumb injury in the fifth inning. Zimmerman hurt himself diving back to second base while getting picked off, immediately looking down at his thumb and holding his arm gingerly as he left the field. There was no immediate word on his status, but the fact infielder Zach Walters was pulled from Class AAA Syracuse's game shortly after appears a telltale sign that Zimmerman could be headed to the DL.
KEY STAT: The Nationals are now 1-4 against the Braves this season and 6-0 against everyone else.
UP NEXT: The series concludes at 1:35 p.m. Sunday, with the Nationals once again needing a win to avoid getting swept by the Braves. It'll be up to Gio Gonzalez to put forth the first quality start of this series. He'll be opposed by veteran right-hander Aaron Harang.