Nationals-Braves instant analysis

Nationals-Braves instant analysis
April 12, 2013, 10:45 pm
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Game in a nutshell: The first of 19 showdowns between the top two teams in the NL East was a dandy, a well-played affair with plenty of big moments, some tense moments late and then ultimately disaster for the Nationals. They jumped out to a 4-0 lead after two innings, thanks to another homer from Bryce Harper and RBI singles by Denard Span and Jayson Werth. Ross Detwiler then settled in carving up the Braves lineup for seven innings using hardly anything but his fastball. Up three runs late, Davey Johnson entrusted the final six outs to Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen (with Rafael Soriano unavailable after pitching three straight nights). Clippard got himself into serious trouble in the eighth, walking B.J. Upton with the bases loaded. That forced Johnson to summon Storen in the eighth and ask his fill-in closer to record four outs. Storen nearly came through, but couldn't finish it off. He walked Jason Heyward to load the bases with two outs, then got Justin Upton to hit a sharp bouncer down the third-base line. Ryan Zimmerman didn't really have a play, but he tried to throw to second base anyways and wound up heaving the ball into right field to allow the tying run to score. The game went into extra innings, at which point Craig Stammen served up a two-run homer to Ramiro Pena, giving Atlanta five runs in three innings off the Nationals bullpen. Craig Kimbrel closed it out in the bottom of the 10th, sending the Nationals to a defeat that won't easily be shaken off.

Hitting highlight: It seems like we're running out of superlatives to describe Harper. But every night, the kid does something that makes you stop and shake your head in disbelief. This time, it was a first-inning homer that left the yard in about .15 seconds. Julio Teheran tried to sneak a fastball past the outside corner, but Harper simply went out there and got it and drilled the ball on a line to left field. It might never have risen more than 25 feet off the ground, clearing the fence with room to spare. That was Harper's fifth homer in 10 games this season, and every one of them has been impressive in its own right.

Pitching highlight: He's technically the Nationals' "No. 5 starter," but nothing about Detwiler's performance so far this season suggests he's a bottom-of-the-rotation guy. The left-hander has been brilliant, going 12 2/3 innings before finally allowing his first earned run of 2013 on Chris Johnson's solo homer in the seventh. Maybe most impressive, Detwiler did it tonight throwing almost nothing but fastballs. His command of that pitch was so good, he didn't really need to break out any of his off-speed stuff. Those fastballs were regularly in the low-to-mid 90s, topping out several times at 95 mph. He had the Braves' hitters off-balance and taking bad swings all night and never really got himself into serious trouble. If that's what the Nationals can expect all season out of their "No. 5 starter," watch out.

Key stat: Zimmerman played in his 1,000th game with the Nationals tonight, far and away the most in club history. Next on the list: Cristian Guzman, with 550 games played in a Nats uniform.

Up next: The marquee pitching matchup of the weekend comes Saturday afternoon, when Stephen Strasburg and Tim Hudson go head-to-head. First pitch is scheduled for 1:05 p.m., with the game televised by Fox.