Teheran fans nine, but runs hard to come by
Freeman responsible for scoring off Strasburg, Nats' bullpen
ATLANTA -- On Friday, one night after tallying season-high totals in runs and hits, the Braves were positioned to benefit from Stephen Strasburg's early exit. But instead of overcoming a couple of mistakes by Julio Teheran, the maddening Atlanta offense once again proved unpredictable.
Everything seemed to be in place when a strained right oblique muscle limited Strasburg to two innings. But instead of taking advantage of the situation, the Braves produced just one threat against the Nationals' bullpen and opened the three-game series with a 3-2 loss at Turner Field.
"With Strasburg going out, we thought we had a better chance, but Craig Stammen came in and just shut us down," said first baseman Freddie Freeman, who homered off Strasburg in the second inning and drove in the only run surrendered by Washington's relief corps.
After Strasburg exited, Stammen navigated his way through a potentially damaging situation with four perfect innings. The Braves made some noise but did not take advantage of Tyler Clippard's seventh-inning struggles before Drew Storen and Rafael Soriano shut things down during the final two innings.
Freeman created some brief excitement in the ninth inning when he hit a long drive, but Roger Bernadina caught it just in front of the wall in right-center.
With a loss, the Braves enter June with a 4 1/2-game lead over the Nationals in the National League East.
"Stammen, I heard, hadn't pitched in a while, so he was fresh," Freeman said. "He went out there and gave them four strong innings, mowed right through us, and we just weren't able to get to him. But we got into the bullpen, so maybe that will help us out in the next two games."
The Braves have lost four of their last six games, and the past two defeats have come in games when the opposing starting pitcher did not complete at least four innings. On Wednesday the Blue Jays' bullpen worked 5 2/3 innings of scoreless relief after Esmil Rogers made an early exit from his first start since 2011.
"You're all geared up to face Strasburg, and he goes out after seven hitters, and now we've got to face a guy out of the bullpen," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "It's just kind of tough on the hitters."
With the Braves unable to break through in the late innings, the Nationals gained some good fortune on the way to beating Teheran, who allowed three earned runs and recorded a season-high nine strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings. The 22-year-old right-hander has pitched into the seventh inning in four of his past five starts and he has surrendered three earned runs or fewer in each of his past seven.
Denard Span began the game with a triple and scored when Steve Lombardozzi followed with a sacrifice fly to right field. Span and Lombardozzi repeated the sequence of events in the sixth inning to give the Nationals a two-run lead.
"It wasn't bad pitches," Teheran said. "I made my pitches, and [Span] got me."
The only other run surrendered by Teheran was scored after Bernadina and Danny Espinosa bounced consecutive one-out singles through the right side of the infield in the second inning. Bernadina scored when the Braves were unable to turn an inning-ending double play on Kurt Suzuki's grounder to third baseman Chris Johnson.
Although he battled discomfort throughout his 37-pitch outing, Strasburg retired five of the seven hitters he faced. The only run he surrendered came when Freeman drilled an elevated 3-2 fastball deep into the right-field seats to begin the bottom of the second inning.
"I think [the oblique] was kind of affecting the way I was finishing everything," Strasburg said. "It's kind of hard when you know what you're going to feel after you throw the pitch. You just kind of go out there and try and trick your mind thinking that it's not going to happen. but it is what it is."
With the Braves trailing, 3-1, Ramiro Pena opened the bottom of the seventh inning with an infield single. The Nationals had retired each of the previous 15 batters they had faced going back to Freeman's homer.
Freeman delivered again in the seventh, when he concluded an eight-pitch at-bat with a single that scored Pena, who had advanced to second base on a wild pitch. Clippard then hit both Evan Gattis and Brian McCann with pitches to load the bases with one out, but the veteran reliever escaped the jam with consecutive strikeouts of Dan Uggla and Johnson.
"[Clippard] was on the ropes, and we just couldn't put the ball in play or couldn't hit a fly ball," Gonzalez said. "That's just the way it goes sometimes."