Nationals rally past rival Braves in wild slugfest
Zimmermann sharp in debut; Harper 0-for-1 with two walks in first game
VIERA, Fla. -- Although their sometimes heated rivalry won't be renewed officially until April 4 in Washington, the Braves and Nationals tangled for the first time in 2014 in Saturday's Grapefruit League contest at Space Coast Stadium.
In a sloppy battle of the past two National League East winners, Washington rallied for a wild 16-15 victory, overcoming Atlanta's nine-run fifth inning.
Both teams received strong spring debut performances from their starting pitchers. The Nats' Jordan Zimmermann gave up one infield hit over two innings, inducing four ground-ball outs and striking out one while throwing 15 of his 20 pitches for strikes.
"I'm right where I need to be," Zimmermann said. "I feel great, the arm feels good. I'll probably throw three or four [innings] the next time out and slowly creep up with the pitches and be ready to go for the first game of the season."
The Braves' Julio Teheran also tossed two scoreless innings, his first game action since signing a six-year, $32.4 million contract extension. The right-hander gave up two hits and struck out one.
Jordan Schafer and Tommy La Stella both produced three hits for the Braves. For the Nats, Bryce Harper went 0-for-1 with two walks in his spring debut, while Mike Fontenot drove in four runs, and Tyler Moore three.
Once the starters were out, it quickly turned into a slugfest aided by shoddy glovework. Both teams scored two in the third. Atlanta plated three in the fourth, before Washington countered with four. The Braves then sent 14 batters to the plate during the nine-run fifth, only to see the Nats come back with five.
The representative play of the day came in the fifth, when the Braves' Matt Lipka lifted a blooper down the right-field line with two runners aboard. Michael Taylor had trouble picking the ball up, then threw wildly to third, allowing Lipka to come all the way around the score.
After Atlanta scored one in the sixth, the Nats took the lead with five in the bottom of the inning, thanks in large part to four walks by the Braves' Wirfin Obispo. Fontenot hit a game-tying three-run double, and Matt Skole added the go-ahead RBI single on a ball that caromed off second baseman Ramiro Pena.
It was a rough day for pitchers, with Matt Purke, Blake Treinen and Josh Roenicke of the Nationals and Anthony Varvaro, Mark Lamm and Obispo of the Braves all surrendering at least four runs.
Up next: The Nats are back at Space Coast Stadium at 1:05 p.m. ET on Sunday, hosting the Marlins on MLB.TV. Doug Fister, acquired in a trade with the Tigers this offseason, will pitch in a Washington uniform for the first time as he makes the start. Left-handed reliever Jerry Blevins also is set to make his Nats debut after coming over in a deal with the A's. After sitting out the first two spring games, right fielder Jayson Werth will get the start against Miami.