Bill Ladson

Nats blanked in opener of NL East showdown

Zimmermann takes tough-luck loss as Braves move within half-game

Nats blanked in opener of NL East showdown

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals may be in first place, but they continue to have problems with the Braves. On Thursday night, right-hander Gavin Floyd pitched six solid innings and helped the Braves blank the Nationals, 3-0, at Nationals Park.

Washington is now a half-game ahead of Atlanta in the National League East, while the Braves have won six of seven games against the Nationals this season. Although it was a somber locker room after the game, the Nationals were not in a panic because they lost one game to a division rival. It's only June, after all.

"It was a good performance by their pitching tonight. We take it one day at a time," Nationals manager Matt Williams said. "They got us tonight and we are going to [play them] again tomorrow. We are going to be prepared to play."

Prior to Thursday, the last time Floyd faced the Nationals was on April 10 of last year. In that game, Floyd, who was a member of the White Sox, allowed five runs on nine hits in a 5-2 loss. But the Nationals faced a different pitcher on Thursday. Danny Espinosa and Denard Span were the only Nats to collect hits against Floyd, who allowed just two baserunners to reach scoring position.

Floyd would leave the game in the seventh inning after fracturing his right elbow.

"That's the best I've seen him look for those first six innings," Braves third baseman Chris Johnson said about Floyd. "He was dealing. He was nasty. It's really a tough break. He was throwing his curveball for strikes. Then he would throw some that fell off the table and into the dirt. He was tough. He looked really good."

For the fourth consecutive game, Jordan Zimmermann submitted a strong outing, but he ended up with his fourth loss of the season. The right-hander pitched seven innings and allowed two runs on seven hits.

Zimmermann found himself in trouble in the fourth. With the bases loaded, Johnson singled to center field, scoring Freddie Freeman and Evan Gattis.

"I threw some pretty good pitches," Zimmermann said. "They had some hits, but there was one hard hit ball. The rest of them were off the end of the bat. That's the way baseball is sometimes. I made some good pitches, a couple of bloopers. A three-hopper up the middle and then they get the bases loaded. I was happy to get out of it with two runs. I had some good innings after that."

After Floyd left the game, it looked like the Nationals would rally against reliever Anthony Varvaro.

Jayson Werth led off the inning with a double down the right-field line. But he was left stranded as Adam LaRoche, Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond all grounded out to shortstop Andrelton Simmons to end the threat.

"It was a game where we got outpitched and we got outhit. Most times when that happens, you lose that game. It's the way it is," LaRoche said. "[The Braves] play us tough. It's plain and simple. They come up with some big hits. ... I don't know what it is. Between them and St. Louis, we are kind of snake bit."

Atlanta would add to its lead in the top of the eighth inning off left-hander Jerry Blevins. With runners on first and third, Johnson hit a shot off Blevin's knee and the ball rolled into left field for a base hit, scoring Freeman.

After the game, Blevins had a bandage on his left knee, but he appeared to be all right.

"It got him on the outside of the knee," Williams said. "He will be a little bit sore tomorrow, but he is fine."

The Nationals have three more games left against the Braves in this series. Washington hopes it can widen its lead in the division.

"Whether it's the Braves, Miami or whoever it is, you have a chance in this division to win games," LaRoche said. "We have to get back on track with the Braves, that's for sure."

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