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Instant analysis: Braves 4, Nats 0

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Instant analysis: Braves 4, Nats 0

Game in a nutshell: Only 13 12 hours removed from a crushing, 11-10 loss, the Nationals took the field for the first half of their day-night doubleheader with the Braves needing a strong performance from starter Edwin Jackson. They got it, with Jackson tossing seven innings of one-run ball, Brian McCann's solo homer in the second the only blemish. But Ben Sheets was even better for Atlanta, tossing six scoreless innings in his second big-league start since 2010. Another Henry Rodriguez meltdown resulted in an insurance run in the eighth. And then Chipper Jones' towering, pinch-hit blast in the ninth put the Nationals in a 4-0 hole they could not escape. Just like that, their lead in the NL East is down to 1 12 games, with John Lannan now asked to reverse the trend in the upcoming nightcap. Oh, and Bryce Harper had to leave this game after fouling a bunt attempt off his left ankle in the first inning. Suffice it to say, this wasn't a good afternoon.

Hitting lowlight: It's not that the Nationals didn't have chances against Sheets or the Braves bullpen. It's that they couldn't come through with any hits in clutch situations. They were 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position over the first six innings. Then when presented with a possible opportunity in the seventh when the score was still only 1-0, Jesus Flores popped up a sacrifice bunt attempt and then watched as Kris Medlen snagged it and whipped a throw to first base to double up Danny Espinosa in a crushing moment. For a lineup that has been raking at the plate for about three weeks now, this was a weak performance.

Pitching highlight: On a day the Nationals desperately needed him to put forth a quality start, Jackson delivered. The right-hander allowed one run in seven innings, matching his season-high with nine strikeouts and most importantly churning out enough innings to give the Nats' bullpen a much-needed breather. Jackson's only mistake: his 0-1 pitch to McCann in the top of the second, which wound up in the right-field bleachers. But you can't fault him for his overall performance. Jackson didn't just pitch well, he pitched well on a day he absolutely needed to do it.

Key stat: Sheets, who hadn't pitched in the big leagues since 2010, has now thrown 12 scoreless innings for the Braves.

Up next: This long day of baseball isn't over yet. John Lannan takes the mound at 7:05 p.m. to make his first big-league start of the season, with right-hander Randall Delgado pitching for the Braves in the nightcap of this doubleheader. And then the Wallflowers will take the field to perform tonight's concert.

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Nats reveal exactly how sick Drew really was after his walkoff triple

Nats reveal exactly how sick Drew really was after his walkoff triple

Often times with professional athletes, you can only find out how truly bad an injury or a predicament is once the game they had to perservere through is over. In hockey, it's after teams are eliminated from the playoffs that you learn who had the broken fingers and torn ligaments in their knee.

That is sometimes the case after good things happen, as well. Players do not like using their ailments as excuses before or during the competition. But after the event is over? Sure, what do you want to know?

After Saturday night's walkoff win over the San Diego Padres, we finally found out the true story behind Stephen Drew's 'flu-like symptoms' and how terribly debilitating his illness actually was. 

Well, we found out some of the specifics. Some are not for a family audience.

"I don't want to say it on TV, but it's been ugly," Drew said. "Anywhere from high fever to everything else, you name it. It's been crazy."

Fair enough. No complaints there. More important was what Drew was able to accomplish in the win, his first appearance in a game since last Sunday. Drew sent the Nats home victorious with a walkoff RBI triple in the bottom of the ninth against Padres reliever Kevin Quackenbush. It was a line drive that fell just inches short of a homer.

Maybe if Drew hadn't been weakened by the flu, it would have cleared the fence. Still, not bad for a guy who had barely swung a bat in a week.

"I ain't done nothing [in six days]. Today is the first time," Drew said. "I tried to hit some [Friday] but just felt really, really lightheaded and kind of dizzy. That's what's left over. I just gotta keep pumping fluids down right now."

Drew had essentially been quarantined by the Nationals for days after he contracted the flu from teammate Anthony Rendon. They gave him IVs and then sent him home, keeping his name on the lineup card as a decoy. He wasn't in the dugout, but the Nats did their best to not let their opponents know he was unavailable.

"He was home not eating, couldn't hold any food. I think he lost 7-8 pounds," manager Dusty Baker said. 

Though still ailing, Drew turned a corner on Saturday and felt good enough to stick around for the full game. As the night went on, he realized he could play.

"I was able to hit in a cage. It wasn't great, but it's better than nothing," Drew said. "Right before the inning I kind of knew what was going on. I told [hitting coach Rick] Schu, he ran over there and I guess told [Baker] again just to let him know."

Drew took the first pitch from Quackenbush for a ball and the second for a strike. He then fouled off two pitches before launching a 77 mile per hour curveball high up the wall in right-center field. 

It was an excellent swing and one that felt familiar to Drew, who has been a plus off the bench for the Nats all season.

"Honestly, I was still in the mindset that I had. It's been a good feeling. Really not trying to do too much, just trying to get a good pitch and get my A-swing off," he said.

Drew has been part of a Nationals bench that has turned into a real strength this season. Drew himself his now 6-for-20 (.300) with three homers and six RBI in 20 pinch-hit at-bats. 

This one was different, of course, and him coming through while under the weather was a big lift for his teammates.

“Sometimes you get your number called even when you’re sick. You come out and make a performance like that, be able to pinch-hit and get a triple," starter Max Scherzer said. 

"That’s huge. That just shows you the resiliency of everybody in this clubhouse, to be able to go out there no matter what and compete and do something to help the ballclub."

"I’ve played days when I’m sick and those are the days when I get three hits. You don’t think, you just go out there and play," center fielder Ben Revere said. 

"I was kind of telling Anthony, I’m like, ‘Get me sick so I can get some hits.’ Usually I play well when I’m feeling down and blue. But it’s tough. It’s tough. I knew the pitcher had a good curveball but I had a feeling if he threw it to Drew, he’s going to do some damage and sure enough he did."

Drew appears to be back to form after a wild week. But he still felt the need to pepper in some knock-on-woods as he spoke after the win.

"I'm getting better. It's been a long process and frustrating, but I'm hopefully at the end of this thing and I'll go from there," he said.

[RELATED: Nats name Giolito as Sunday starter vs. Padres]

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Stephen Drew walk-off lifts Nationals to win over Padres

Stephen Drew walk-off lifts Nationals to win over Padres

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 3-2 walkoff win over the San Diego Padres on Saturday night at Nationals Park.

How it happened: Success off the bench as a pinch-hitter can be fleeting and some, no matter how good they were as everyday players, never find the secret.

Not Stephen Drew. Even six days off due to flu-like symptoms could not cool the Nats' bench hero down, as he walked off the San Diego Padres on Saturday night with an RBI triple in the bottom of the ninth.

The final blow came against Kevin Quackenbush, who was the final pitcher summoned from a Padres staff that had otherwise baffled the Nats through 8 2/3 innings. Anthony Rendon scored the game-winning run after leading off the inning with a single to left field.

The Nats got their other two runs on a Daniel Murphy sacrifice fly in the third inning and a Ben Revere RBI double in the fifth. Max Scherzer did his part with seven innings and just two runs allowed. The Nats' bullpen picked up from there with a scoreless eighth by Shawn Kelley and ninth by Jonathan Papelbon. Both relievers allowed extra base hits, but left the mound unscathed.

What it means: With the win, the Nats evened up their season series against the Padres at 3-3 and snapped a three-game losing streak to San Diego. They stand 58-40 on the season.

MORE NATIONALS: GIOLITO GETS NOD SUNDAY VS. PADRES

Scherzer keeps rolling: Scherzer's recent dominance continued on Saturday night as the Nats ace went seven strong innings of two-run ball with 10 strikeouts and zero walks. It didn't start out well for Scherzer, who allowed a two-run homer to Ryan Schimpf in the second, but he recovered after that and finished his outing by retiring 14 of the last 15 batters he faced. It was the 13th time in 21 starts this season that he's gone at least seven innings and the eighth time he's recorded double-digit strikeouts. 

Over his last five starts, Scherzer has allowed just four earned runs across 34 1/3 innings. And since May 6, he holds a 2.19 ERA (24 ER, 98.2 IP) in 14 outings. Scherzer had a 4.60 ERA when he took the mound on May 11, but has since pared that down to in impressive 2.92.

The homer to Schimpf was Scherzer's biggest mistake and it was, of course, the continuation of a year-long trend. Scherzer has now given up 22 on the season, tied for fourth-most of all MLB pitchers. That's despite the fact he had only given up one in his previous four starts entering Saturday night.

Revere bounces back: Revere's frustrating 2016 season had reached one of its lowest points on Friday night, when he went 0-for-5 in a loss to the Padres. It was so bad that Nats manager Dusty Baker spoke with Revere's father and grandfather afterwards. They thanked the skipper for being patient with the Nats outfielder, despite him batting nearly 100 points lower than the .300 average he had carried in each of the previous three seasons. Baker expressed sympathy for Revere, but noted he had been back for over a third of the season. Patience was running out. Baker said "we need him badly."

What Revere did to respond on Saturday night is exactly what Baker had in mind. The embattled leadoff man walked in his second at-bat in the third inning and later scored on a Murphy sacrifice fly. Revere set that up by moving from first to third on a singly by Jayson Werth. Revere then doubled home Danny Espinosa in the top of the fifth to tied the game at 2-2. Before Saturday night, Revere had just three hits in his last nine games, a stretch of 29 at-bats.

Harper keeps scuffling: It was another long night for the reigning MVP, who went hitless in four at-bats and left four men on base. His worst moment came in the bottom of the fifth when the Padres opted to walk Murphy with two outs to put two men on to face Harper. Harper promptly popped out to right field to end the rally. Harper is now just 5-for-39 (.128) with 10 strikeouts in his last 11 games.

Up next: The Nats and Padres close their series with a 1:35 p.m. start on Sunday afternoon. Rookie Lucas Giolito (0-1, 4.70) will make his third career MLB start opposite San Diego lefty Christrian Friedrich (4-6, 4.55).

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Nats name Giolito as Sunday starter vs. Padres, Ross to rehab soon

Nats name Giolito as Sunday starter vs. Padres, Ross to rehab soon

The mystery of who will pitch the series finale for the Nationals against the Padres on Sunday is over, as manager Dusty Baker revealed the team's plans to call up top prospect Lucas Giolito to make his third career MLB start.

With Giolito on his way to Washington, the Nationals will have to determine a corresponding move. And three players - Ryan Zimmerman, Joe Ross and Sammy Solis - all nearing their returns from the disabled list, there could be a lot of shuffling on the Nats' roster in the coming days and weeks.

Giolito, 22, joins the Nats after making one start at Triple-A Syracuse. Through two big league starts this season he has a 4.70 ERA across 7 2/3 innings. Both of his outings came against the New York Mets.

Zimmerman (left ribcage strain) has made two rehab appearances with the Single-A Potomac Nationals. He went 2-for-4 with a double in his first game and 1-for-5 with two RBI and a run in his second. He was set to play his third game with the P-Nats on Saturday evening.

Solis also played with Potomac on Friday night and struck out three in a scoreless inning. He will now move on to Single-A Hagerstown to continue his rehab back from right knee inflammation.

"Solis, he pitched yesterday and said it went well. He's going to throw again tomorrow," Baker said. "Him and Joe are both going to throw at Hagerstown. We'll keep our fingers crossed that that works out well, too."

Ross will be making his first rehab appearance with Hagerstown on Sunday as he works his way back from right shoulder inflammation. He has been on the disabled list since July 3.

The Nationals chose Giolito to start over Reynaldo Lopez, one of their other hard-throwing prospects. Lopez pitched against the Dodgers on Tuesday and gave up six earned runs in 4 2/3 innings.

Lopez was brought up to replace Giolito's spot in the rotation for his July 19 debut after the Nats determined Giolito needed more work in the minors. They sent him to Syracuse hoping he could work on his fastball command and his curveball. Giolito responded with 6 2/3 innings and only one unearned run in his lone outing in Triple-A.

[RELATED: Nats' Trea Turner on his speed and how he got so fast]

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