Despite a couple of disheartening losses, the NL East-leading Washington Nationals have a chance to make it through the weekend without surrendering any ground to the second-place Atlanta Braves.
The Nationals try to salvage a four-game split with the Braves as these division rivals square off again Sunday in the nation's capital.After blowing a franchise-record nine-run lead in Friday's series-opening 11-10, 11-inning loss, Washington (54-39) failed to get anything going against Ben Sheets on Saturday afternoon during a 4-0 defeat in the opening game of a day-night doubleheader. The Nationals, though, broke though during the nightcap, winning 5-2 to increase their lead back to 2 1/2 games over the Braves (52-42).John Lannan threw seven strong innings in his season debut and Roger Bernadina -- starting in place of the injured Bryce Harper -- paced the offense with three hits, a run scored and an RBI."I think most of the guys in this locker room felt like it was a must-win tonight," closer Tyler Clippard said after earning his 16th save. "If they took three from us right away, it would have been a pretty big blow. To get this win tonight, John stepped up in a huge way for us, pitched great and our offense came through when we needed, too. It was a huge win."Washington survived a scare when Harper fouled a bunt off his left ankle during Saturday's first game. The 19-year-old phenom didn't start Game 2, but he singled and scored as a pinch-hitter. His status for Sunday is uncertain."It feels all right," he said. "Once I get going, that's when it feels good. When I sit down, that's when it feels bad."Harper's absence would surely make things easier on Jair Jurrjens (3-3, 6.20 ERA), who was knocked around during Tuesday's 9-0 loss to San Francisco. The right-hander allowed a career high-tying eight runs along with eight hits and three walks over 3 1/3 innings."I think his command wasn't as good as we've seen it before," manager Fredi Gonzalez told the Braves' official website. "It was just one of those days, whether it happened to be the long days off between starts. He just wasn't the same and they took advantage."Jurrjens has also been hit hard in each of his last four outings against the Nationals. He's gone 0-3 over that stretch while allowing 21 runs in as many innings with Washington hitters batting .348.Ryan Zimmerman is 12 for 33 (.364) with a homer lifetime against Jurrjens. Ian Desmond, Michael Morse and Danny Espinosa have also taken him deep, going a combined 11 for 35 (.314) in their matchups.Getting back on the road, though, could help Jurrjens regroup. He's recorded a 2.45 ERA in winning each of his last two outings away from home.The Nationals counter with Ross Detwiler (4-3, 3.15), who's posted a 2.66 ERA over four starts since rejoining the rotation after spending nearly a month in the bullpen. The left-hander was superb his last time out, walking none and scattering five hits over seven scoreless innings Tuesday in a 5-4, 10-inning win over the New York Mets."I don't remember the last time I finished seven," he told the Nationals' official website after his longest outing of the season. "This is definitely what I want to do. I want to go deep into the game, and as deep as possible."Detwiler hasn't been very sharp over two starts against the Braves this season, compiling a 5.73 ERA, but the Nationals have won both of those games. They have a 7-4 lead in the season series.
Since coming off the DL on June 22, Jair Jurrjens is 3-1 with a modest 4.40 ERA, still a huge improvement from his 9.37 ERA before his injury. The difference? Jurrjens is throwing more changeups, and opponents are hitting just .222 off it since his return, compared to .478 before. If he continues to throw that pitch well, he should be effective against the Nationals.