Apr 28, 2015, 3:36 PM EDT
ATLANTA — Major-league debuts are always a big deal, no matter how touted a rookie is or is not. But they’re an even bigger deal when they come in a particularly important game for that young player’s team, as most certainly is the case tonight for A.J. Cole and the Nationals.
Losers of six straight and now a full 8 games back in the NL East, the Nats desperately need to play well tonight against the Braves (and, ideally, win). So there’s a level of pressure on the 23-year-old Cole that wouldn’t normally be there for your run-of-the-mill debut outing. We’ll see how the lanky right-hander deals with all that.
Cole won’t have his best possible defense behind him, because Yunel Escobar (as expected) is out after having his left hand cut up by Andrelton Simmons’ late, hard slide last night. That means Danny Espinosa is at third base, with Dan Uggla at second base. It also means the Nationals have no backups at second base, shortstop or third base. In the event of emergency, Tyler Moore would probably play third base, with the other guys shifting as necessary.
One way or another, this should be an interesting one, so please make sure to check back often for updates…
WASHINGTON NATIONALS at ATLANTA BRAVES
Where: Turner Field, Atlanta
Gametime: 7:10 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN, MLB.tv
Radio: 106.7 FM, XM 869
Weather: Partly cloudy, 67 degrees, Wind 8 mph in from RF
CF Denard Span
SS Ian Desmond
LF Jayson Werth
CF Bryce Harper
1B Ryan Zimmerman
C Jose Lobaton
3B Danny Espinosa
2B Dan Uggla
RHP A.J. Cole
RF Nick Markakis
SS Andrelton Simmons
1B Freddie Freeman
C A.J. Pierzynski
3B Alberto Callaspo
LF Kelly Johnson
2B Jace Peterson
CF Cameron Maybin
RHP Julio Teheran
HP James Hoye
1B John Tumpane
2B John Hirschbeck (cc)
3B Bill Welke
7:11 p.m. — We are underway on a 70-degree night here in Atlanta. There’s a chance of some rain later. Hopefully much later.
7:35 p.m. — The good news: The Nats got a run in the top of the first thanks to Denard Span’s leadoff single and Bryce Harper’s 2-out RBI double. The bad news: A.J. Cole gave the Braves two runs back in the bottom of the inning. The rookie right-hander was up in the zone with just about everything, throwing only 90-93 mph. The Braves got hits from Nick Markakis, Freddie Freeman and Alberto Callaspo, plus a sac fly from A.J. Pierzysnki and a wild pitch from Cole that hit the backstop on the fly. He did record a much-needed strikeout of Kelly Johnson with a curveball to end the inning, but he’ll need to settle down when he returns for the second inning. It’s 2-1 Atlanta.
8:07 p.m. — Oh, my. Cole just gave up another 7 runs on 6 hits in the second inning. It’s really not pretty. He’s not fooling anybody. And when it looked like he would get out of the inning with a chopper to first, he dropped Zimmerman’s throw while trying to find the bag. The Nats had no real choice but to leave him out there, given the current state of things. But this is a really tough situation for the kid, one you’d never wish upon anybody in his MLB debut. Speaking of which, if I did my Baseball-Reference Play Index research correctly, it appears only six pitchers in baseball history have ever given up 10 or more runs in their debut start. Cole is now at 9, and the Nats trail 9-1 after two innings.
8:18 p.m. — Well, the Nats got one run back in the third on Span’s double and later Werth’s sac fly. Tanner Roark then entered for the bottom of the third, sending Cole to an unceremonious early shower. Roark retired the side. It’s 9-2 after three.
8:38 p.m. — The Braves get one back in the fourth off Roark, with Freeman (who else?) and Pierzynski teaming up. It’s starting to rain lightly here. You wonder if, deep down in a place they’d never talk about at parties, the Nats wouldn’t mind if it starts pouring to the point they have to call this game early. 10-2 Braves after four.
9:00 p.m. — Well, Span doubled and then Callaspo booted a grounder and the Werth hit a sac fly and then Zimmerman singled and then Lobaton launched a 3-run, opposite-field homer and all of a sudden it’s a 10-6 game after five innings. Still a long way to go in this one. Roark, meanwhile, has thrown 42 pitches over three innings of relief. Williams said yesterday he was probably good for 50-60 total, so we’ll see if he’s got one more good inning in him or not.
9:26 p.m. — Home run by Span in the top of the sixth, his fourth hit of the night, trimming the lead to 10-7. But then Roark hit a wall in the bottom of the inning, putting the first three batters he faced on base, with one of them scoring, before he was pulled with his pitch count at 52. Matt Thornton entered and did a nice job getting out of the inning without any more damage. But it’s now 11-7 heading to the seventh, so the Nats still have some work to do.
9:55 p.m. — And the rally continues in the seventh. Dan Uggla blasted his second triple in as many nights (yes, you read that correctly) to drive in two runs. Reed Johnson then doubled home Uggla to make it an 11-10 game, though Johnson appeared to get hurt running the bases and wound up being replaced by pinch-runner Doug Fister (yes, you read that correctly). Blake Treinen entered for the bottom of the inning and gave a run back via Freddie Freeman (now 7-for-10 in the series) and A.J. Pierzysnki (now with 4 hits tonight). So it’s 12-10 Braves after seven innings of one of the wildest ballgames I’ve ever covered.
10:13 p.m. — Jim Johnson set down the Nats in order in the top of the eighth. Treinen stranded a runner on third base in the bottom of the inning. So it’s still 12-10 heading to the ninth, with Zimmerman, Lobaton and Espinosa due up against Jason Grilli.
10:24 p.m. — SWEET FANCY MOSES DAN UGGLA 3-RUN HOMER GIVES THE NATS A 13-12 LEAD IN THE TOP OF THE NINTH.
10:37 p.m. — It’s over, Drew Storen finishes off an improbable 13-12 victory, completing the largest comeback victory in Nats history. The losing streak is over, and perhaps this is the game that turns this season around.
FINAL NL EAST STANDINGS
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