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No sweep, but no worries for Nats

No sweep, but no worries for Nats

For a split-second at the end of the eighth inning Wednesday night, as Ian Desmond awkwardly pulled up lame at first base, the fact the Nationals had just squandered another golden scoring opportunity seemed insignificant.

"Being out wasn't real important in that moment," said Desmond, who grounded into a 6-4-3 double play to quash a potential rally.

"I forgot about the game when I saw him," manager Davey Johnson said. "I thought for sure he pulled a hammy."

Once Desmond realized he hadn't actually injured himself -- he thinks he just hyperextended his knee -- he could return to kicking himself over making two outs on one swing of the bat in a crucial moment of what was at that point a one-run game.

"I mean, I'm probably doubly frustrated over my at-bats tonight," he said. "This the knee isn't really much of a concern to me. I think it was more of a scary, in-the-moment type of thing."

Frustrating as their eventual 5-1 loss to the Braves was, the Nationals at night's end were pleased simply to have taken two of three from their lone remaining challenger for the NL East crown and come out of this crucial series with everybody in one piece.

That wasn't a sure thing at a couple of points in this game. In addition to Desmond's brief scare, catcher Kurt Suzuki had team officials worried he broke his right hand after getting struck by a foul ball in the fourth inning. Suzuki's hand remained swollen throughout the game, but X-rays were negative and he insisted he'll be fine moving forward.

Not that the Nationals were overly pleased with their on-field performance. With an opportunity to sweep Atlanta and seize a commanding, eight-game lead in the division, they instead were stifled for seven innings by under-appreciated right-hander Kris Medlen, squandering what few scoring opportunities they had before turning sloppy in the field during the ninth inning.

"Obviously we don't like to make mistakes, but they happen," said Ryan Zimmerman, whose error allowed an unearned run to score. "It's going to happen, and we don't want it to happen, but it is what it is. It happened. We won two out of three and we move on."

As was the case the previous two nights, this was a tightly contested ballgame with an added element of tension thrown in because of the two clubs' current standing. Unlike the previous two nights, the Nationals were unable to make pitches when they needed, were unable to produce clutch hits when they were needed and were unable to make plays in the field when they really were needed.

Their biggest infraction in the latter category came via Bryce Harper in the top of the fifth. Starter Ross Detwiler had just walked Medlen on four pitches to bring up Martin Prado with two outs and two on, then served up a well-struck line drive to deep right-center. Harper took a circuitous route to the ball, moving several steps in before circling back, and ultimately couldn't recover in time. Prado wound up on second base with the two-run double that put the Braves ahead for good.

"I thought I had a good read on it," Harper said. "He hit it off his front foot, got some backspin on it, hit it hard and I had to bust my butt. I came in a little bit, just because he was off his front foot. But he back-spinned it. It was a good hit."

Those two runs proved important because the Nationals were unable to get anything going against Medlen, a Tommy John surgery survivor who is just now re-establishing himself as a front-line starting pitcher for Atlanta. The Nationals had opportunities to make a dent in Medlen, but they simply couldn't produce a big hit in a big moment.

Suzuki grounded into a double play with two on and one out in the second. Adam LaRoche popped out on the first pitch he saw with the bases loaded in the sixth. And Desmond grounded into his killer double play on the first pitch he saw from reliever Eric O'Flaherty in the eighth.

"That's just young hitters," Johnson said. "They get a little too excited. Desi's been pretty good about getting a pitch he really likes. He had a good swing at it. We're going to be a little anxious in those situations. We've gotten a whole lot better from last year, but we're still going to be a little over-aggressive."

A three-run ninth off Tom Gorzelanny -- with assists to Zimmerman and Suzuki for their throwing errors -- put this one out of reach and might have left the Nationals feeling less than totally satisfied with the night's outcome.

Then again, they entered this showdown holding a five-game lead over the Braves and they exited it holding a six-game lead with 38 to play. That's still a comfortable position to be in, right?

"Of course," Michael Morse said. "It's still a six-game lead. It's awesome."

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Turner and Zimmerman sit as Scherzer, Nats play at Giants

Turner and Zimmerman sit as Scherzer, Nats play at Giants

Nationals (60-42) vs. Giants (59-43) at AT&T Park

The Nationals hung on two beat the Giants in the opener on Thursday night despite a finish that was anything but smooth. On Friday, they will look to win their third straight game overall with Max Scherzer (10-6, 2.92) on the mound.

Scherzer has been brilliant as of late with just four earned runs allowed across his last five starts (34.1 IP). He struck out 10 in seven innings against the Padres his last time out.

Behind Scherzer will be a new-look lineup with Trea Turner, Ryan Zimmerman and Danny Espinosa all getting the day off. Ben Revere is in center, Clint Robinson is at first base and Wilmer Difo is in at shortstop.

They will face Jeff Samardzija (9-6, 4.22), who has allowed at least four earned runs in five of his last six starts and in seven of his last 10.

First pitch: 10:15 p.m.
TV: MASN2
Radio: 106.7 The Fan
Starting pitchers: Nats -Max Scherzer vs. Giants - Jeff Samardzija

NATS

CF Ben Revere
RF Bryce Harper
2B Daniel Murphy
C Wilson Ramos
LF Jayson Werth
1B Clint Robinson
3B Anthony Rendon
SS Wilmer Difo
RHP Max Scherzer

GIANTS

CF Denard Span
LF Angel Pagan
2B Joe Panik
SS Brandon Crawford
1B Brandon Belt
3B Connor Gillaspie
RF Gregor Blanco
C Trevor Brown
RHP Jeff Samardzija

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Nats place C Jose Lobaton on disabled list, call up Severino

Nats place C Jose Lobaton on disabled list, call up Severino

The Nationals will be without Jose Lobaton for at least a few days, as they placed the backup catcher on the disabled list Friday retroactive to July 20. Lobaton is dealing with left elbow tendinitis.

Taking his place on the roster will be catcher Pedro Severino, who was recalled from Triple-A Syracuse. This is Severino's second stint with the Nats this season.

Lobaton, 31, takes a break after holding a .194 average with one homer and three RBI through 22 games. He last played on July 19 against the Dodgers and has only appeared in four games this month.

Severino, 23, only made one appearance with the Nats when he replaced Wilson Ramos, who went on the bereavement list in late April. Severino also played two games with the Nationals last season.

Known more for his defensive abilities, Severino has a .259 average with two homers and 17 RBI in 73 games at Triple-A this season.

MASNsports.com first reported Severino's call-up.

[RELATED: Papelbon's job as Nats closer now a real question]

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MLB Trade Rumors: Nats reportedly willing to trade Giolito for Miller, but Yankees aren't

MLB Trade Rumors: Nats reportedly willing to trade Giolito for Miller, but Yankees aren't

The Nationals are very interested in acquiring a closer before the trade deadline on Monday.

The hang up has been — as it was with a potential deal for Aroldis Chapman — with the number of pieces they would have to give up in the process.

While keeping all of their top prospects would be ideal, a source close to the MLB's Jon Morosi believes the Nationals would be willing to trade 22-year-old RHP Lucas Giolito to the Yankees for 31-year-old closer Andrew Miller.

RELATED: WHO ARE THE NATS' TOP TRADE DEADLINE TARGETS?

The Yankees had previously insisted that they would be keeping Miller, but with the team looking to stockpile young talent for the future, a one-for-one trade would do them well. But having just dealt Chapman, the Yankees may want more in return, which the Nationals have balked at in recent talks.

But Miller would be an upgrade from the Nationals' current situation.

Jonathan Papelbon has been shaky and inconsistent as of late, and while Shawn Kelley has been capable of spot closing duties, it is clear that the team is deficient in that department. Miller only has nine saves this season, but has played second fiddle to Chapman and his blistering pitch speed. Miller has a 1.39 ERA and has struck out 77 batters this season.

Miller is a good closer, but is he worth giving up a bona fide top prospect in Lucas Giolito?

According to fellow MLB Network reporter Jon Heyman, the Yankees reportedly think it's the other way around.

One thing is for sure, the answer will become clear by the end of the weekend.

RELATED: NATS' INTERESTED IN PIRATES' ALL-STAR CLOSER