Nats start fast, finish strong to best Braves

Nats start fast, finish strong to best Braves

Nats start fast, finish strong to best Braves
ATLANTA -- The Nationals showed resolve in an 8-4 victory over the Braves at Turner Field on Saturday afternoon, but the victory may have been bittersweet because Chad Tracy, Washington's best pinch-hitter, suffered what looked like a serious right leg injury after giving the Nats the lead for good with an RBI double in the sixth.

With a runner on second and the game tied at 4, Tracy hit Kris Medlen's 1-0 pitch into the gap in left-center field for a double, scoring Ian Desmond. It was Tracy's Major League-leading ninth pinch-hit RBI of the season.

"He has given me more runs than my whole bench did last year, in a fourth of the season," manager Davey Johnson said about Tracy. "He is just invaluable. He is a weapon."

But Tracy came up hobbling while running to second base.

Athletic trainer Lee Kuntz immediately came to Tracy's aid. A couple of minutes later, Tracy left the game. Tracy is expected to have an MRI on Sunday to determine how serious the injury is.

"I'm pretty sore right now. We'll see what happens [Sunday]," Tracy said.

The Nationals are not sure if Tracy will go on the disabled list. They are hoping that he simply broke scar tissue after having surgery for a double sports hernia during the offseason.

"He is hoping he just popped some scar tissue, and he also talked to his doctor," Johnson said. "He said that he would wait a couple of days to see if that is the case. I hate to overreact and make a rush to make a roster move. Maybe he is going to be all right in two to three days."

The Nationals added to the lead after Tracy's exit. After Jesus Flores struck out, Rick Ankiel entered the game as a pinch-hitter for Stephen Strasburg, and Ankiel tripled over the head of Michael Bourn, scoring pinch-runner Edwin Jackson.

In the seventh inning, Washington scored two more runs, off left-hander Jonny Venters. Bryce Harper hit his third home run of the year, a solo shot over left-field wall, while Ryan Zimmerman scored on a double by Adam LaRoche.

"Scoring [seven or more] runs a couple of days in a row. I feel like I'm on vacation," Johnson said. "It's nice to have a few runs to work with."

It was a game in which Strasburg picked up his fifth win of the season, but it was a struggle to get the victory. He pitched five innings, and allowed four runs on six hits.

Like Ross Detwiler the previous day, Strasburg threw too many pitches. By the third, Strasburg was over 60 pitches.

The Nationals gave Strasburg a 4-0 lead on the strength of Danny Espinosa's three-run homer in the second, but the right-hander couldn't hold it. The biggest blow came when he allowed a two-run homer to Dan Uggla, tying the score at 4 in the fifth inning.

"Stras didn't have command of his fastball, or was afraid to throw it over," Johnson said. "I even looked up there one time and he threw more balls than strikes. It wasn't his day, I guess. Where he is usually picking us up, we picked him up today."

Strasburg acknowledged that he simply couldn't find the strike zone. But he couldn't pinpoint why he had problems on the mound.

"Sometimes you can't find the strike zone, and I was struggling with it all day," Strasburg said. "I just have to try to let it go and do better next time."

But the Nationals managed to overcome Strasburg's struggles and pick up their 28th victory of the season, and they are now 2 1/2 games ahead of the Marlins and Mets, and three ahead of the Braves, in the National League East.

"The big thing in division play is that you try to win series," Espinosa said. "You are not always going to sweep, especially in this division. It's a tough division. You always want to go out there and win series, especially on the road. It tougher to do on the road. We have this series, and we need to try and sweep."

Braves center fielder Michael Bourn knows Sunday night's game against the Nationals will not be easy, especially with Gio Gonzalez on the mound. The Braves have now lost six straight games.

"These parts of the season come and it's part of playing baseball," Bourn said. "You've got to try to get through them as a team. This team on the other side, they're good. It doesn't get any easier tomorrow. They've got another ace going tomorrow."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.