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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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Nationals' Joe Ross to start against team that drafted him

Nationals' Joe Ross to start against team that drafted him

WASHINGTON -- On Dec. 19, 2014, the San Diego Padres traded pitcher Joe Ross and a player to be named later -- it would be Trea Turner -- to the Washington Nationals in a three-team deal that included the Tampa Bay Rays.

Since that trade, the Padres have posted a record of 160-215 while the Nationals are 208-166 after they won 3-0 Saturday as Stephen Strasburg struck out a career-high 15 batters in seven innings and the Washington staff fanned 17.

As a reminder of what could have been, Ross (2-0, 5.32) makes the start Sunday against San Diego right-hander Jhoulys Chacin (4-4, 5.74) in the finale of the three-game series at Nationals Park.

First-place Washington is 30-18 while last-place San Diego is 18-33.

Ross was drafted by the Padres in the first round out of his California high school in 2011. Ross is 2-0 in his career against San Diego with a 2.25 ERA in two starts. Last year, he went six innings and allowed six hits and three earned runs in a win against the Padres.

"I was not around Joe at all," said Andy Green, in his second year as the San Diego manager. "We saw him last year; he is a sinkerballer."

The Padres did acquire All-Star first baseman Wil Myers in the trade.

The Nationals have scored a record 62 runs in the four starts made this year by Ross, more than any other pitcher has received in his first four starts of a season. That included a 23-5 victory at home April 30 against the New York Mets and a 10-1 win Tuesday against the Seattle Mariners.

Ross, who broke into the majors with the Nationals in 2015, was in the rotation last season and made 19 starts before going on the disabled list. He was in line to be the No. 5 starter, but began the season at Triple-A Syracuse.

Chacin is 3-2 in six starts against Washington and has a 3.09 ERA. He has made three career starts at Nationals Park and is 1-1 with a 0.45 ERA while allowing only one run in 20 innings.

The Nationals played their second game in a row Saturday without second baseman Daniel Murphy, who was ill.

Nationals bench coach Chris Speier, filling in for manager Dusty Baker, said before the game that Murphy was ill. Murphy entered the day hitting .316 with nine homers and 33 RBIs.

"He's available. This is Dusty's theory: Usually when somebody comes in and says, 'I'm ready,' then he usually gives him one more day. But he's available," Speier told reporters before the game.

Murphy entered Saturday seventh in the National League in hits with 56, just ahead of teammate Bryce Harper (55). Murphy was also among the league leaders in multi-hit games and road batting average.

Washington shortstop Turner, drafted by the Padres in the first round out of North Carolina State, had two hits, including a homer, Friday and was 1-for-4 Saturday.

Another hot hitter for Washington is center fielder Michael A. Taylor, who hit a homer for the second day in a row Saturday and has four homers in his last 14 games.

"I'm looking for my pitch and staying in my zone," Taylor said. "I'm not trying to do too much."

MORE NATIONALS: Stephen Strasburg has career-high 15 strikeouts in Nationals win over Padres

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Stephen Strasburg has career-high 15 strikeouts in Nationals win over Padres

Stephen Strasburg has career-high 15 strikeouts in Nationals win over Padres

WASHINGTON -- Stephen Strasburg downplayed any notion that starting pitchers on the same team attempt to top each other. On the mound one day after Max Scherzer overwhelmed the San Diego Padres, the right-hander did just that.

Strasburg dominated San Diego with a career-high 15 strikeouts while allowing three hits over seven innings as the Washington Nationals beat the Padres 3-0 on Saturday.

Strasburg (6-1) singled and scored Washington's first run on Bryce Harper's RBI fielder's choice grounder in the third inning. Michael A. Taylor hit a two-run homer for the second consecutive game.

San Diego's lineup offered little resistance against Strasburg the day after Scherzer struck out 13 in Washington's 5-1 win.

"Piece of cake, huh?" cracked Chris Speier, who is serving as acting manager with Dusty Baker away this weekend to attend his son Darren's high school graduation in California.

San Diego had six hits and struck out 31 times -- 17 Saturday -- in the two losses.

"I know when you have those type of combinations," Speier said of Strasburg and Scherzer, "they feed off each other. There's a little competitiveness within the starting pitchers that is very healthy. . It's win-win for us."

With four pitches working, Strasburg struck out the side in the third and sixth and had at least two in each of the first six innings. His single matched the Padres' hit total through five innings.

Strasburg previously struck out 14 batters twice including his Major League debut on June 8, 2010. He set a personal best by setting down Franchy Cordero in the seventh.

"It's pretty cool, but there's another game 5, 6 days from now," said the low-key pitcher. "Maybe I'll enjoy it tonight, but back to work tomorrow."

The San Diego native is 6-1 with a 2.93 ERA for his career against his hometown team.

Matt Albers pitched the eighth and Koda Glover the ninth for his fifth save.

Clayton Richard (3-6) followed up his complete-game victory over the Diamondbacks on May 21 by allowing three runs and 10 hits over six innings.

One out after Anthony Rendon's leadoff single in the sixth, Taylor drove a pitch over the wall in center field for his fourth homer of the season.

"You stay in a one-run game, momentum's different," a frustrated Richard stated. "We have a different attitude, it changes a lot of things."

Washington has won two straight and five of six.

San Diego is 5-13 since May 9.

San Diego loaded the bases with one out in the first following a single, a throwing error by first baseman Ryan Zimmerman and Cory Spangenberg's four-pitch walk. Strasburg ended the threat by striking out Austin Hedges on three pitches.

The Padres had two singles in the sixth, but Strasburg recorded strikeouts for the final two outs.

"Sometimes with the best pitchers in the game if you don't get them in the first three innings they get harder and harder to get to," Padres manager Andy Green said. "We had our chance in the first we didn't take advantage of it."

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