Desmond's clutch homer propels Nats over Braves
Shortstop snaps tie with seventh-inning blast; Jordan logs solid start
WASHINGTON -- The Nationals entered Sunday's series finale against the Braves with two consecutive losses to their troublesome division rivals. With injuries and slumps mounting, Washington started a lineup markedly different from the one manager Matt Williams wrote down on Opening Day.
The result was a reversal of fortune, as the Nats rode the pitching of Taylor Jordan and a huge go-ahead home run from Ian Desmond to a 2-1 victory that pulled the clubs even at 4-2. It was only the Nats' seventh win in 22 tries against the Braves since the beginning of last season.
"It was nice to get that W, get the monkey off our back," said Desmond, whose seventh-inning solo blast off Alex Wood provided the winning margin. "We obviously understand that we have some things that have to be addressed when we're playing them, but we're going to continue to get better and we'll see how it shakes out the rest of the way."
Before the game, speaking about all of the team's recent adversity, pitching coach Steve McCatty pointed out that the 162-game season was still only five games old.
"There's a lot of time left," he said. "It's baseball. Adjust, adapt, and overcome."
And so the Nats did on Sunday. They got 6 1/3 strong innings from Jordan, who might only be in the rotation to open the season because Doug Fister had to go on the disabled list. Kevin Frandsen started as an outfielder for the first time since 2007, as Bryce Harper got a break following his 3-for-21, 10-strikeout start. With catcher Wilson Ramos on the DL and third baseman Ryan Zimmerman hampered by a sore right shoulder -- which didn't prevent him from pinch-hitting and striking out in the eighth -- Sandy Leon and Danny Espinosa also found themselves in the lineup.
Lack of depth was an issue for the Nats last season, but on this day at least, the reserve-heavy group got the job done.
"We had a couple bats out, but at the same time, we have really good replacements," Desmond said. "That's what [general manager Mike Rizzo] spent a lot of time and energy on this offseason, is building up the bench -- and what an unbelievable job those guys did and they're going to do for us all year long."
In the first inning, Anthony Rendon -- leading off with Denard Span on the bench -- saw third baseman Chris Johnson playing deep and decided to drop down a bunt. Rendon never before had bunted for a hit in his career, but this time he legged it out to jump-start the offense.
After Frandsen followed with a line-drive single to left, the Nats caught a break. Defensive miscues had plagued them during recent battles with the Braves, but this time one bit Atlanta on Jayson Werth's grounder up the middle. Second baseman Dan Uggla ranged right to field it, but his throw bounced away from first baseman Freddie Freeman, and Rendon motored home for a 1-0 lead.
Although the Braves eventually tied the game in the sixth on Uggla's long sacrifice fly, that didn't diminish the work of Jordan, who held Atlanta to one run on six hits, with two walks and three strikeouts. The 25-year-old right-hander, making his first start this season and the 10th of his career, used his heavy two-seam fastball to get out of multiple trouble spots and give Washington a chance to win.
"I'm impressed with the way he went about it," Williams said. "He got into a couple of jams, but used his sinker to get out of it.
"It's what he's got to do -- throw his fastball, because it sinks so well. He's one pitch away from a double play all the time. He pitched well."
Wood countered with seven mostly dominant innings of his own. The left-hander retired 13 in a row at one point but made a costly mistake to begin the seventh, as Desmond turned on his up-and-in 87-mph fastball and sent it flying high into the left-field seats, nearly reaching the concourse.
"We were looking to get in there to set up the whole at-bat and maybe go offspeed with the next couple of pitches," Braves catcher Gerald Laird said. "It kind of creeped back over the plate. Desmond is a good hitter for a reason."
The Nats' bullpen took it from there. Lefty Jerry Blevins (1-0) picked up his first win with Washington, combining with Tyler Clippard and closer Rafael Soriano for 2 2/3 scoreless innings.
Soriano made things interesting in the ninth in his first save opportunity of the season. After getting the first two outs, the veteran gave up consecutive infield singles, then went to a 3-2 count on Jason Heyward before getting the slugger to swing through an 83-mph slider up in the zone.
"He's been around the block a couple of times, so he knows what he's doing out there," Williams said. "If he didn't get Heyward, then he was OK going after B.J. Upton, too. He doesn't panic, his heart rate never gets up. He would want it clean, for sure, but he knows what he's doing."