GAME IN A NUTSHELL: If the Nationals hoped to open a big, 4-game series against the Braves on the right foot and begin to put to rest any questions about their ability to beat their NL East rivals, this wasn't particularly the way to do it.
The Nats were shut out by Gavin Floyd, until the Maryland native was forced to depart in the seventh with swelling in his surgically repaired right elbow, then couldn't muster anything against the Atlanta bullpen, totaling three hits on the night. Jordan Zimmermann tried to keep his team in the game but was done in by a 2-run fourth that was headlined by Chris Johnson's RBI single to center. An insurance run off Jerry Blevins in the eighth only made a last-ditch rally less likely.
Thus the Nationals were beaten for the sixth time in seven games against the Braves this season, the 19th time in 26 head-to-head matchups over the last two seasons. They still hold a 1/2-game lead in the division, with three games to go in this weekend series. But the Atlanta monkey that has been on their backs for some time now is only growing larger.
HITTING LOWLIGHT: Credit must be given to Floyd, who for six innings was absolutely brilliant, especially with a slider that was untouchable all night. But it's fair to question some of the Nationals' approach against the right-hander, which could charitably be described as over-aggressive. Ian Desmond, in particular, chased perhaps a half-dozen breaking balls out of the strike zone, striking out twice and grounding out weakly another time. Anthony Rendon and Jayson Werth also whiffed on sliders down and away. On a night when discipline was needed at the plate, the Nats showed little.
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PITCHING HIGHLIGHT: Zimmermann took the mound in the top of the first and stated his presence with authority, retiring the side on nine pitches, several of them 95-mph fastballs. Talk about a way to get a game started. He couldn't quite keep that pace the rest of the night, but he was darn good throughout. The only hiccup: a fourth-inning stretch in which four straight Atlanta batters singled. A couple of them were squared up pretty good, but Johnson's 2-run single up the middle on a 3-1 pitch simple was well-placed. Whatever the case, that was the lone blemish on Zimmermann's pitching line, but it was enough to deal him yet another hard-luck loss. Despite allowing a scant three runs in 32 innings over his last four starts, the right-hander's record during this span is 2-2.
KEY STAT: Over the last two seasons, the Nationals have a .231 winning percentage (9-30) against the Braves and Cardinals. Their winning percentage against everybody else is .588 (114-80).
UP NEXT: Game 2 of this 4-game series will see Stephen Strasburg taking the mound against a Braves club he hasn't beaten in his last six head-to-head starts. Lefty Mike Minor gets the ball for Atlanta at 7:05 p.m.