Late rally not enough for Nationals
Despite ninth-inning drama, club can't rebound from deficit
ATLANTA -- It was another frustrating loss for the Nationals in a season chock full of them, but there was something markedly different about this 7-6 loss to the Braves on Friday night that at least gave the impression that the Nats' second half of the season won't be nearly as discouraging as the first.
A couple of better bounces and breaks -- like Austin Kearns' game-ending liner hit directly at right fielder Jeff Francoeur, which stranded the tying run at third base -- and Washington could have escaped Turner Field with an improbable comeback win.
But then again, rousing endings like that have transpired far too infrequently for the Nationals, who have now lost 10 of their past 12 games.
"Despite not winning too many games the last couple of weeks, I like the way the guys are going out there and fighting," manager Manny Acta said. "That's the way the ball bounces."
And Acta isn't just grasping for a silver lining here. The Nationals had a legitimate chance to pull off a ninth-inning comeback against the Braves and closer Mike Gonzalez, who saw the lead dwindle to one on an RBI groundout by Paul Lo Duca.
"I like the fight," Acta said.
Tim Redding put Washington in a 6-2 hole in the third inning after allowing a bases-loaded double to Brian McCann on a pitch he hoped would induce an inning-ending double play.
Instead, McCann was ahead of Redding's changeup and hooked it into the right-field corner.
"It's the pitch I would throw over again if I had the opportunity," said Redding, who was charged with six runs on six hits in four innings, and was dealt his first loss since May 9.
Redding hadn't pitched since last Thursday, when he threw six scoreless innings against the Astros, but said he didn't feel rusty. He threw a side session on Tuesday in preparation for this start and was very pleased with the command of his fastball.
But the location with two offspeed pitches -- the changeup to McCann and a hanging slider to Brent Lillibridge -- cost him. In the second inning, Lillibridge drilled a two-out, two-run double over the head of center fielder Willie Harris that gave the Braves an early 2-0 lead.
"Unfortunately the damage was done too early for all of them to come back," Redding said.
The Nationals nearly erased that deficit, however, against their nemesis, Tim Hudson, who entered Friday's start with a 7-1 record and a paltry 1.13 ERA in 11 career starts against them.
But Hudson exited with two out in the seventh and 88 pitches thrown, a stat Acta was particularly proud of when assessing his team's unlikely comeback against the Braves' ace.
After retiring the first six batters he faced, Hudson gave up a double to Kory Casto and an RBI single to Ryan Langerhans, who played parts of five seasons for the Braves.
Langerhans later tripled in the seventh and recorded his first multihit game since May 12, 2007.
"Even though it's a tough loss, it's something we can build on going forward," Langerhans said, pointing to the Nationals' ability to advance runners and drive in runs at opportune times on Friday night.
Each of Washington's three pinch-hitters excelled in their roles, with Pete Orr and Felipe Lopez hitting singles and Jesus Flores contributing a sacrifice fly.
"Regardless of who was pitching out there, I think we did some good things at the plate today, which was encouraging," Acta said.
Cristian Guzman, who leads the National League with 127 hits, sliced the Nationals' deficit to 7-5 with an RBI single in the seventh, the final blow against Hudson, who gave up five runs on nine hits.
Washington's five runs off Hudson in 6 2/3 innings matched its offensive output in the past six games against him, dating to May 15, 2007.
"Usually, when a guy like Hudson gets six runs on you, it is over," Acta said. "And the guys continued to battle and fight."
Jason Bergmann, scheduled to start Tuesday against the Giants, allowed one run in two innings of relief, and lefty Charlie Manning added two scoreless innings to keep the Nationals close.
"These guys rallied around and tried to make a [heck] of a comeback, and I can't wait to see them come out here and start swinging tomorrow," Redding said.
Ryan Lavner is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.