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'He was white as a sheet'

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'He was white as a sheet'

ATLANTA -- The official temperature at Turner Field when Stephen Strasburg took the mound Saturday afternoon was 104 degrees. One hour earlier, as Strasburg was getting ready to warm up for his start against the Braves, that number actually sat at 106 degrees, officially the hottest reading ever recorded in the city's history. The Clean Air Campaign classified this as a "Code Purple" day, which means the air quality reached "very unhealthy" levels.

Strasburg thought he had prepared for this. He'd known since making his last start Monday in Colorado -- where the gametime temperature was a record 100 degrees -- what awaited him in Atlanta, and according to teammates had been taking precautions for several days in anticipation of this outing.

But as the Nationals right-hander very slowly walked off the field in the middle of the fourth inning, his shoulders slumped, his uniform sopping wet, it was obvious to Davey Johnson what needed to be done.

"When he came back in, he was white as a sheet," the manager said. "And I said: 'That's it.'"

Thus ended the shortest start of Strasburg's season in disturbing fashion. As the young ace retreated to the air-conditioned clubhouse to receive three rounds of IV fluids and other treatments to address what the Nationals called "heat-related issues," his teammates fought their way through another five innings of torturous baseball, ultimately taking a 7-5 loss to the Braves that didn't seem as serious by day's end than Strasburg's health.

"It's obviously a great decision by Davey," shortstop Ian Desmond said. "You preach to kids: 'Hey, if you're hot and you feel dizzy, come out of the game.' I knew a kid who died at a young age in Florida. He felt like he was hot, he kept on practicing. And the next thing you know, he was gone. I was relieved they made the right decision and got Stras out and he didn't give too much of a fight. It was a responsible decision."

Shortly after this 3-hour, 14-minute ballgame played before a crowd of 26,491 that tried to seek refuge by retreating to the few covered sections of the stadium, Strasburg stood in front of his locker, a bandage covering his inner left elbow at the site of the IV injection. He seemed dejected that he couldn't pitch deeper into the late afternoon.

"Obviously I want to go out there and compete, and I expected a lot more of myself," he said. "By no means was I going out there thinking I wasn't prepared for it. I did everything I could to be ready for it as far as hydrating and everything. I've just got to learn from it."

Strasburg warmed up in the bullpen wearing a navy blue pullover, perhaps not wanting to soak his red game jersey before he ever threw an official pitch. It didn't take long for that to happen, though; by the time he walked off the mound following a 24-pitch first inning, he already looked fatigued.

Strasburg did contribute to the Nationals' cause. He actually delivered an RBI single in the bottom of the second after the Braves intentionally walked catcher Jesus Flores to load the bases for the pitcher (who now boasts a .375 batting average and 1.090 OPS).

But he really struggled during the bottom of the third, issuing two walks and two doubles and needing extra time between pitches to catch his breath and wipe sweat off his brow.

"I tried to go up there a couple of times, just calm him down and tell him: Hey, breathe. Take your time. Just trust yourself'" Flores said. "But I knew at the same time, the weather wasn't easy to handle it."

In between innings, Strasburg tried to cool off in the air-conditioned clubhouse. But he had no time for that after the third inning because he was due up third. He trudged to the plate, intending never to take the bat off his shoulder, yet still was forced to trot to first base after Atlanta lefty Mike Minor walked him.

By the time that inning ended and Strasburg slowly made his way to the dugout, Johnson realized he couldn't allow this to continue any longer.

"It was pretty scary, and he wasn't talking too good," said the manager, who also said the pitcher's blood pressure was "way up." "I found out later that he got a little dizzy while he was out on the mound. The problem was he was totally dehydrated."

Chien-Ming Wang had already been warming in the bullpen for an inning, just in case a change needed to be made. Because Strasburg (who wound up throwing 67 pitches) was being removed from the game due to a physical ailment, Johnson asked the umpiring crew to give Wang as much time as he needed to warm up.

Wang, a native of Taiwan who has become accustomed to pitching in excessive heat and humidity, wasn't so much fazed by the conditions as much as his continued inability to locate his bread-and-butter sinker. The veteran right-hander wound up getting tagged for four runs and five hits in two innings, turning what was a close game into a sizable deficit.

It was the latest in a string of poor outings by Wang, whose ERA now sits at 7.61 as he tries to right himself out of the bullpen.

"Coach gave me this opportunity," he said through interpreter John Hsu. "I just need to do my best and try to get myself back, just like before."

The Nationals' patience with Wang (who was re-signed for 4 million in November) appears to be running thin.

"He's just not right," Johnson said. "His release is not right, and I'm concerned about it. He's a veteran pitcher and it's not really spring training. We're in the heat of battle. So I don't know."

The date of Wang's next appearance remains to be seen. The date of Strasburg's next appearance tentatively remains Friday, against the Rockies in Washington. That's his final scheduled start before the All-Star Game, an exhibition he's likely to find out Sunday he'll participate in for the first time in his career.

"It's serious," Johnson said of the dehydration. "But it's not something he can't recover from."

A native of San Diego, where the temperature rarely exceeds 80 degrees, Strasburg knows he's going to have to deal with plenty more hot summer days on the East Coast.

He'll continue to prepare as well as he can, even though the precautions he took before Saturday's game still prevented him from overcoming the extreme elements.

"It just didn't seem to change the symptoms or anything," he said. "It's tough. I feel like I let the team down today. It's just something I've got to get over."

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Nats' defense making uncharacteristic mistakes in recent games

Nats' defense making uncharacteristic mistakes in recent games

Despite having a 37-year-old left fielder, a second baseman with a troubled history in the field and, at times, a host of players learning new positions on the fly, the Nationals have not just been better than expected on defense this season, they have ranked among the top clubs in the majors. 

They are third in fielding percentage, sixth in efficiency rating and 10th in double plays. The Nats have committed the third-fewest errors this season and generally a team not known for beating themselves.

Lately, that has not been the case. In Tuesday night's 8-1 loss to the Orioles, the Nats saw Daniel Murphy - the second baseman referenced above - boot a groundball in the third inning that led to two runs.

That blunder wasn't the reason the Nats lost the game. It was, though, a continuation of a trend for the Nationals that has emerged during their road trip.

In their loss on Monday night, Bryce Harper bobbled a ball in right field that helped lead to a run. In Sunday's loss, the Nats committed five errors, their most in a game since July 15, 2011. In their win on Saturday, Wilmer Difo had an error that led to a run. And on Friday, the Nats had two errors lead to a pair of runs in the eighth inning alone. 

That's a lot of mistakes in a span of just six games, but manager Dusty Baker isn't ready to worry quite yet.

"It's a matter of timing," Baker said. "You get timing in hitting, timing in defense. Things go in streaks. You score a lot of runs in streaks and don't make errors for a long period of time. Then you make quite a few errors in a short period of time."

Murphy was more succinct in his assessment of the Nats' recent defensive woes.

“I’d say we’re not catching it, probably the easiest way to describe it," he said.

Murphy did, however, explain his own mistake on Tuesday night and how he believes it affected young starter Reynaldo Lopez, who made it only 2 2/3 innings, in part due to two unearned runs on the error.

"If I make that play right there, he gets a chance to go another inning, maybe settle into the ballgame. Unfortunately, I didn’t give him that chance tonight," Murphy said. "A six-run lead compared to a four-run lead is completely different, especially in this ballpark. Unfortunate he didn’t get a chance to go back out there and find his rhythm."

The Nats defensive skid has coincided with a tough time for their pitching staff. Stephen Strasburg and Joe Ross are on the disabled list, leaving rookies to fill the void. And their bullpen has been beaten up by injuries, rain delays and a heavy workload. 

The last thing the Nats need right now is for their play in the field to exacerbate the problems in their pitching staff. Baker, again, is not concerned.

"Hopefully this is the end of it and we've gotten it out of our system," he said.

[RELATED: Nats fall on wrong side of three challenges by Orioles]

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Nats fall on wrong side of three challenges by Orioles manager Showalter

Nats fall on wrong side of three challenges by Orioles manager Showalter

Manager Dusty Baker is new to MLB's system of replay challenges as the first-year skipper of the Washington Nationals. There have been times this season where the rules have helped Baker and his team. Tuesday night was not one of those times.

Buck Showalter of the Orioles matched an MLB season-high with three successful manager challenges in the Nats' 8-1 loss at Camden Yards. Two of them pulled Trea Turner off the basepaths. One of them ruled Adam Jones safe to extend an inning.

The two Turner ones hurt the most, as they contributed to a long night for the Nationals offense, one in which they landed 10 hits but scored just one run. Turner was ruled out on two steal attempts at second base. One was in the first inning after he led off the game with a single. The other was in the third inning, again after he got on with a single.

Both plays featured throws by Orioles catcher Matt Wieters that were to the right of the bag, but second baseman Jonathan Schoop was able to pull the ball in and make the tag with Turner sliding past him.

"You can’t do anything if the throws are towards first base," Baker said. "They weren’t very good throws. It just happens they were very good tags. You got a 6-foot-4, long-armed second baseman, and most people don’t even get down in that position to make that tag."

Turner agreed on the throws and wished, in a sense, they were more on target.

"I just wish he would have made good throws right over the bag, I think I have a better chance that way," he said. "Throw gets taken up the line, you know he can put the tag on you a little bit faster and that's what happened tonight."

Getting Turner, one of the fastest players in baseball, into scoring position generally leads to good things. The Nats instead had him sent back to the dugout after lengthy delays while the umpires conferred with New York.

Both Baker and Turner stewed over the replay system itself as they waited. And afterwards each made their opinions clear.

"Don't care for it too much. I don't think I or we or anybody on this side has really benefit from it, so for that reason I don't really care for it," Turner said.

Baker was much more direct and descriptive.

"Number one, I just think it takes too long… they've gotta do something to correct the length of time. Maybe after 30 seconds if they're inconclusive, then come up with whatever the umpire said," Baker said.

"It sort of makes a point of why do we need umpires, if you're going to dispute everything that they say? I don't know. I'm kind of new this year to replay, but it's tough to lose three of them… To me, it doesn't make the umpires look very good. I just hope they correct this."

[RELATED: Lopez rocked as Nats suffer lopsided loss to Orioles]

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Reynaldo Lopez rocked as Nats suffer lopsided loss to Orioles

Reynaldo Lopez rocked as Nats suffer lopsided loss to Orioles

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 8-1 loss to the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday night at Camden Yards.

How it happened: Reynaldo Lopez learned the hard way on Tuesday night that pitching in Baltimore these days is a much different story than pitching in Atlanta.

After two impressive outings against the lowly Braves, Lopez had quite the wakeup call against the Orioles at Camden Yards, a haunted house for pitchers. The Nats rookie had no chance against the O's and was bounced after just 2 2/3 innings of work. That nice little favor A.J. Cole did their bullpen the night before became a distant memory, as Matt Belisle was summoned far earlier than manager Dusty Baker had intended.

Lopez ended up with six runs allowed - four of them earned - on seven hits and three walks. None of his runs came on homers, despite the Orioles' penchant for hitting them.

Lopez was thoroughly outpitched by Orioles starter Kevin Gausman, who - like Dylan Bundy the night before - showed why Baltimore took him with the fourth overall pick. Gausman was sharp with his mid-90s fastball and mixed in sliders and splitters with regularity. He tossed six shutout innings with six hits and two walks allowed on 110 total pitches.

After Lopez left, Oliver Perez gave up an RBI single to Matt Wieters in the seventh. Yusmeiro Petit then offered up a solo homer to Chris Davis in the eighth. 

The Nats had trouble scoring, but they did get on base at a decent rate. Trea Turner had a career-high four hits, including a double. Bryce Harper had two singles. Ryan Zimmerman singled and scored their only run on a Danny Espinosa RBI knock. 

The Nationals lost for the second straight night to the Orioles, who have absolutely owned them in their annual head-to-head series in recent years.

What it means: The Nats dropped to 73-52 on the season and have lost five straight games to the Orioles going back to last season. Since the start of 2012, they are 6-16 against the O's.

Lopez gets rocked: What happened to Lopez on Tuesday night was much more like his first two big league outings, when he got shelled by the Dodgers and Giants. At least in those games he made it at least four innings. Lopez found trouble early against the Orioles, who wasted no time in overwhelming the young right-hander. Mark Trumbo singled home a run in the first inning. Wieters doubled home another in the second. Adam Jones brought in a third run on an infield single soon after.

That was bad, but the third inning saw matters get much worse. Jonathan Schoop doubled home Davis to make it 4-0 with one out. Then, with two outs and the bases loaded, Lopez got J.J. Hardy to hit a hard grounder to Daniel Murphy at second. Murphy booted it and allowed two unearned runs to score. That made it 6-0 and got Belisle into the game.

Despite throwing two consecutive solid games against the Braves, Lopez now has a 5.33 ERA through five total starts with 15 earned runs allowed in 23 1/3 big league innings. 

Turner gets four hits: Turner singled three times and doubled once in the Nats' loss. It was his first four-hit game, but the second time he's reached base four times. He also did that on June 3 in Cincinnati in his first MLB game of 2016.

Turner's night was notable because of the hits, but also because he was caught stealing twice. Both times were on nice throws by Wieters, but even better tags by Schoop. And both times were on Buck Showalter challenges. Turner has been caught stealing three times this year and all were on umpire reviews. Showalter, in fact, won three challenges on the night, which matched an MLB season-high.

Espinosa contributes again: It was just an RBI single on an otherwise forgettable night for the Nats, but for Espinosa it was his second straight game doing something positive at the plate after he homered on Monday night. Espinosa is still just 7-for-47 (.149) in his last 13 games.

Up next: The Nats and Orioles shift to Washington where they play two games at Nationals Park. Wednesday night will pit Tanner Roark (13-6, 2.87) up against O's lefty Wade Miley (7-10, 5.58).

[RELATED: Ross takes big step in rehab, is okay with returning to Nats in bullpen]

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