Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
The sun is out and the temperature is up for today's game at Wrigley Field.
It'll take a pretty big effort from the Nats to pull that off. Rookie Luis Atilano is back on the mound for his second career start, hoping to duplicate his fabulous debut last week against the Rockies. Roger Bernadina is also here and in the lineup after his promotion from Class AAA Syracuse. With probably 10 straight right-handed starting pitchers coming up in the next week and a half -- Ryan Dempster goes today for the Cubs, and the Marlins and Braves have nothing but right-handers in their rotations -- Bernadina figures to get some significant playing time, especially with Willie Harris still banged up with a bruised knee.
Ryan Zimmerman, of course, is out of the lineup once again. I would think he'll work his way back in there Friday night in Florida, though. Seems like the Nats are just waiting for warmer weather.
Check back for updates throughout the game...
NATIONALS AT CUBS
Where: Wrigley Field
Gametime: 2:20 p.m.
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM
Weather: Mostly sunny, 60 degrees, Wind 6 mph RF to LF
CF Nyjer Morgan
3B Adam Kennedy
2B Cristian Guzman
1B Adam Dunn
LF Josh Willingham
RF Roger Bernadina
SS Ian Desmond
C Wil Nieves
P Luis Atilano
SS Ryan Theriot
RF Kosuke Fukudome
1B Derrek Lee
3B Aramis Ramirez
LF Tyler Colvin
CF Marlon Byrd
2B Mike Fontenot
C Koyie Hill
P Ryan Dempster
2:17 p.m. -- Gorgeous day here. The bleachers are totally filled up, but the grandstand is maybe half-full at this point. Day game at Wrigley: Nothing's better.
2:22 p.m. -- Play ball! Ryan Dempster starts things off with a strike to Nyjer Morgan.
2:25 p.m. -- And just like that, the Nats take a 1-0 lead. Adam Kennedy smokes a 2-0 pitch from Dempster into the right-field bleachers, an impressive feat in that what wind there is today is blowing in from right. Kennedy's first homer as a National.
2:42 p.m. -- Luis Atilano gives the run right back to the Cubs, though wasn't really his fault. Ryan Theriot led off with a hard grounder to the right of second that Cristian Guzman could have stopped but instead dove past. A walk to Kosuke Fukudome put Atilano in a jam. But he got Derrek Lee to fly out to right -- Roger Bernadina nearly gunned down Theriot at third with a fantastic throw -- and then got Aramis Ramirez to hit a fly ball to left that brought home the run but otherwise recorded an out. A pop-up between home plate and third base should have been the third out of the inning, except Adam Kennedy dropped it for an error. Marlon Byrd finally flied out to right to end the inning. Atilano faced six batters, and it's not far-fetched to say he basically retired five of them. Still, it's now 1-1 after one.
2:51 p.m. -- Wil Nieves (who?) is probably the weakest offensive player on this roster, and he'd probably be the first to admit it. But Nieves does have a knack for coming through in some timely situations, as he just did in the top of the second. With two outs, a runner on second and a 3-2 count, he shot a high fastball from Dempster to right field for an RBI single. Nats retake the lead, 2-1.
2:59 p.m. -- And Atilano gives that run back as well. A two-out, RBI single by Theriot knots the game up 2-2. After all these great starting pitching performances over the last week or so, we may have our first dud in a while today. Fortuantely, the Nats' bullpen is well-rested.
3:07 p.m. -- Better stuff from Atilano in the third. Aside from a two-out single by Tyler Colvin, he retired the rest of the Cubs' order without letting the ball get out of the infield. Still 2-2 after three.
3:25 p.m. -- For all you conspiracy theorists out there who think my location within the ballpark affects the events on the field ... I just went down to the stands for the fourth inning to take photos, and lo and behold, Adam Dunn homers. Second time that's happened in the last week. This was no cheapie, either. Dunn went to the opposite field and sent his shot well up into the bleachers to give the Nats a 3-2 lead.
3:47 p.m. -- Couple of significant developments to report from the fifth inning. In the top half, Atilano hit what looked like a routine fly ball to center, until Marlon Byrd lost it in the sun. Byrd, though, somehow managed to make the catch with a no-look, behind-the-back maneuver that can only truly be appreciated from watching the replay. Make sure to check it out later. It's worth it. ... In the bottom of the inning, Atilano loaded the bases with one out but managed to wriggle his way out of it impressively. Byrd popped up to first for the second out. Mike Fontenot then his a slow grounder to the right side. Dunn moved to his right to pick it up and then threw to Atilano, who pumped his fist and let out a yell upon recording the third out of the inning. Still 3-2 Nats, now in the sixth. (Oh, I should point out that as Atilano was getting into that jam, Brian Bruney was warming in the bullpen. It would appear Bruney has completely lost his setup role and is now just another middle reliever.)
3:56 p.m. -- Boy, has Luis Atilano gotten better as this game goes on, or what? After escaping that jam in the fifth, he just retired the side in the sixth, striking out Koyie Hill and getting Ryan Theriot to hit a comebacker. That's another quality start for the Nationals, the club's seventh straight. Imagine that.
4:03 p.m. -- That'll do it for Atilano. Six innings, six hits, two runs, three walks and a strikeout. Bruney coming on to pitch the seventh, hoping to protect a 3-2 lead.
4:13 p.m. -- Well, Bruney made it interesting (as he often does). But this time he got out of it. After serving back-to-back singles to open the seventh, he got Ramirez to ground into a 4-3 double play, then Colvin to ground to second himself. Proof that Bruney's stuff is good enough to get hitters out ... as long as he throws it for strikes.
4:18 p.m. -- Something to consider ... the Marlins have already lost today, and the Phillies are facing Tim Lincecum in San Francisco. If the Nats hold on to win here, they could be alone in second place, one game behind the Mets, by the end of the afternoon.
4:20 p.m. -- Tyler Clippard coming on to pitch the eighth.
4:32 p.m. -- Another scoreless inning of relief from Clippard. He allowed a leadoff double and later walked Xavier Nady on four pitches, but he struck out Chad Tracy with a high, 92 mph fastball and got Ryan Theriot to foul out on the first pitch. Nats lead 3-2 heading to the ninth. Clippard's updaated season totals: 3-0, 0.54 ERA, 20 strikeouts in 16 2/3 innings. Send Tyler to Anaheim!
4:36 p.m. -- It's a 1-2-3 top of the ninth, so here comes Matt Capps to protect a 3-2 lead and shoot for his 10th save in 10 tries.
4:44 p.m. -- That's another curly W in the books. A great play by Desmond on Fukudome's leadoff grounder to the hole helps Capps lock this one up. Nats win, 3-2. They're 12-10, their best record after 22 games since the franchise relocated. (The 2005 club was 11-11 at this point.)
5:31 p.m. -- One more tidbit for all you Nats historians out there ... they've clinched a winning April. It's their first winning month since Sept. 2007 and only the seventh winning month since the franchise arrived in town. The others: April 2005 (13-11), June 2005 (20-6), July 2006 (14-11), Sept. 2006 (15-13), July 2007 (14-12), Sept. 2007 (15-12).