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Nats held to Harper's homer in loss to Braves

Club can't back Gio in game that features benches-clearing standoff

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals continue to have problems scoring runs as they were edged by the Braves, 2-1, at Nationals Park on Tuesday night. It's getting to the point where the Nationals have to think about the Wild Card race, for they are now 14 1/2 games behind the Braves in the National League East and eight games behind the Reds in the Wild Card.

"There is nothing we can do now except keep playing," Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche said. "There is no point looking back and hanging our heads. We have two options now: We can cash it in and think about next year or grind it out and see what happens."

It has been that kind of season for the Nationals. When they score fewer than two runs in a game, they have a record of 6-46. Manager Davey Johnson even tweaked his lineup, placing Ryan Zimmerman second behind Bryce Harper, while Jayson Werth and LaRoche hit third and fourth, respectively. As it turned out, the Nats went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position.

"Well, it's another opportunity missed there," LaRoche said.

After the game, Johnson was at a loss for words. So he asked this question to the media: "Are the Braves' pitchers that good or are we ... I don't know."

Washington's best chance to score was in the fifth inning, when both clubs were involved in a benches-clearing incident. With Anthony Rendon on second, Braves right-hander Julio Teheran hit Harper -- who had homered in the third inning -- with a pitch in his right thigh. Harper was so upset that he had words with Teheran and catcher Brian McCann. Soon thereafter, both benches and bullpens emptied, but no punches were thrown.

"I was surprised. I just was trying to get in there. I didn't want to make a mistake like I did with the homer. That's how I hit him," Teheran said. "I got upset because I didn't want to hit him. So when he said that to me, that's when I started working."

Harper was politically correct when talking about the incident between him and Teheran.

"It's something he's got to do," Harper said. "It's part of the game."

Asked if he was surprised to get hit, Harper said, "I hit the ball pretty far off him, so no, not really."

Harper said he wasn't going to go to the mound to confront Teheran. Harper realized that the Nationals needed him on the field and they couldn't afford to have him ejected.

"I wasn't going to go out there," Harper said. "We are 14 1/2 games down and I need to be in the lineup. He has to do what he has to do."

After peace was restored, Teheran held the Nationals scoreless in the inning. Zimmerman flied out to center fielder B.J. Upton and Werth popped up to shortstop Andrelton Simmons to end the threat.

"It marginal because [the pitch] was downstairs," Johnson said. "I thought Zim answered the thing right. He almost hit one out of the park. That's the way you answer that sort of thing. You file it for future reference. There's nothing you can do at that time to level the playing field."

In the seventh inning, with reliever Luis Avilan on the mound, the Nationals had the bases loaded with two outs, but LaRoche grounded out to first baseman Freddie Freeman to end the threat. The Nationals scored their only run on Harper's 17th homer.

Left-hander Gio Gonzalez started for Washington and was solid, going seven innings and allowing two runs on six hits. The Braves scored their two runs in the fifth inning, when Evan Gattis singled to right field, plating Upton and Simmons.

"You look at the pitch to Gattis, I thought it was a good down-and-away pitch," Gonzalez said. "He put some wood on it, just enough and it goes over Rochey's head."

Gonzalez said he is not frustrated about not getting enough run support this year.

"I'm not worried about that. My job is to go out there and pitch, keep these guys in the game," Gonzalez said. "It's going to turn around. These guys are going to swing it. They are going to help us out as much as possible. They are going against a good team. Their pitching is doing really well. You have to give them credit."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats.
Read More: Washington Nationals, Gio Gonzalez, Bryce Harper