WASHINGTON -- If the Braves are going to remain in the National League East race while spending at least the next couple of weeks without the benefit of Freddie Freeman's bat in the middle of their lineup, they can't afford to make the mistakes that proved costly in Tuesday night's 3-1 loss to the Nationals.
Left-hander Alex Wood certainly did not have his best stuff as he surrendered a season-high 10 hits over seven innings while matching up against Stephen Strasburg, who completed five scoreless innings in this series opener at Nationals Park. But Wood limited the damage to three runs, and his line might have been slightly more attractive with a little assistance from his defense.
"[Wood] is going to get the [loss] and Strasburg will get the [win], but in the back of my mind, I thought he pitched better than Strasburg," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "[Wood] obviously got deeper into the game, but that's baseball. You give up three runs and lose. I thought he pitched well."
Strasburg returned from the disabled list in impressive fashion on a night when the Braves stranded 10 runners, including three in the ninth, and missed the presence of Freeman, who was placed on the disabled list with a right wrist injury Tuesday.
Though Wood completed two more innings than Strasburg, he also surrendered as many as 10 hits for just the third time in 49 career starts. But his results might have been slightly better had center fielder Cameron Maybin not fumbled Michael Taylor's leadoff single in the third or if second baseman Jace Peterson had successfully completed the double-play turn third baseman Juan Uribe began in the fourth.
"We put him behind the eight ball a couple times," Gonzalez said.
Taylor raced to second base on Maybin's misplay, then stole third base before scoring on a Denard Span single on a hanging curveball that was eating at Wood after the game. One inning later, Danny Espinosa beat Peterson's double-play turn to first base and ended up scoring on a Taylor RBI single that followed a walk to Tyler Moore.
The Nationals tallied just one run in both innings. But with the final deficit being just two runs, the Braves have to wonder how costly those mistakes were to their bid to keep pace with the first-place Nationals, whom they trail by three games.
"That's baseball," Wood said. "I was fortunate enough that I was able to make some pitches when I needed to avoid having a much worse situation. From that aspect, I was happy."
Though he totaled 48 pitches through the first three innings, Wood aided the bullpen by completing seven innings. Still, his effort went for naught when Maybin, who has seven hits in his past 35 at-bats, ended the game by popping out behind the plate with the bases loaded.
"I think it was just one of those games where if you ask [Wood], he'd say he didn't have his best stuff, but he battled," Braves infielder Chris Johnson said. "That's what good pitchers do. He battled for seven innings, kept us in the ballgame and gave us a chance there at the end."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.