Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Luis Atilano returns to the Nats' rotation tonight to face the Reds' Mike Leake.
The challenge will be upon a pair of rookies, Luis Atilano and Mike Leake, to do the same tonight. These two have already squared off head-to-head this season, with Leake (who made the majors this spring without ever appearing in the minors) beating Atilano 5-1 on June 5 at Nationals Park. Atilano pitched really well that night in a hard-luck, losing effort, allowing just one earned run over seven innings. He returns tonight following a brief, one-start stint at Class AAA Syracuse over the All-Star break. He struggled in that outing and wasn't exactly tearing it up before the break. With several rehabbing pitchers getting closer to rejoining the Nats' rotation, Atilano could be just about out of time to make his case.
Lineup-wise, Jim Riggleman has decided to try Ian Desmond in the 2-hole tonight. It may sound counter-intuitive based on Desmond's overall struggles and low OBP. But he's actually performed best as a No. 2 hitter. In eight games from that spot this season, he's hitting .353 (12-for-34) with a .618 slugging percentage. Meanwhile, Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn have been flip-flopped, something Riggleman has done in the past against left-handed starters but not against right-handers. Ivan Rodriguez also gets bumped to the 7-hole.
Check back for updates throughout the afternoon and evening...
NATIONALS at REDS
Where: Great American Ball Park
Gametime: 7:10 p.m.
Radio: WFED-1500 AM, WWFD-820 AM
Weather: Chance of storms, 80 degrees, Wind 7 mph RF to LF
CF Nyjer Morgan
SS Ian Desmond
1B Adam Dunn
3B Ryan Zimmerman
LF Josh Willingham
RF Roger Bernadina
C Ivan Rodriguez
2B Adam Kennedy
P Luis Atilano
SS Orlando Cabrera
2B Paul Janish
1B Joey Votto
LF Jonny Gomes
RF Jay Bruce
3B Miguel Cairo
CF Drew Stubbs
C Corky Miller
P Mike Leake
3:43 p.m. -- For all you culinary fans out there, I made it to Skyline Chili today for lunch. Had the 3-way (chili, spaghetti, cheese). Outstanding.
5:56 p.m. -- We've got rumbles of thunder overheard and a storm approaching from the west. Hopefully it clears before gametime.
5:58 p.m. -- By the way, happy 22nd birthday to Stephen Strasburg. Too bad he has to wait til tomorrow to pitch.
6:27 p.m. -- It is currently pouring here. Seems unlikely we'll begin on time unless the rain stops in next couple of minutes, because they still have to get the field ready.
6:34 p.m. -- Right on cue, the rain has stopped. They're pulling the tarp back off the infield right now, and they just announced this game is expected to start on time.
7:10 p.m. -- As promised, we are underway right on schedule. Mike Leake greets Nyjer Morgan with a fastball for ball one.
7:14 p.m. -- That didn't take long. Three batters, 11 pitches, two strikeouts and the Nats are retired in order in the top of the first. Luis Atilano now taking the mound.
7:22 p.m. -- Before tonight's game, Jim Riggleman was asked if, given Luis Atilano's struggles in his minor-league start last week, he had any concerns going into this one. Riggleman's answer: "Am I concerned? Yeah." It would appear he had good reason to be, because Atilano just stunk up the joint in the bottom of the first. Walked Orlando Cabrera on five pitches. Walked Paul Janish on five pitches. Then served up a monster, three-run homer to Joey Votto. Yeah, it's already 3-0 before an out has been recorded.
7:31 p.m. -- The first inning has mercifully ended. The Reds didn't score another run, but Atilano did get tagged for a double by Jay Bruce and a couple of long flyouts. He finally struck out Drew Stubbs to end the inning, his pitch count at 31. Nats trail 3-0.
7:54 p.m. -- Yes, that was an RBI hit by the Nationals you just saw. Nyjer Morgan singled to center to score Adam Kennedy. You probably forgot what those look like. Reds still lead 3-1 in the middle of the third.
8:01 p.m. -- And it's raining again. Play will begin in the top of the fourth. We'll see how long this lasts.
8:16 p.m. -- You know it's bad when the opposing pitcher is a lifetime .600 hitter against you. Yeah, that's Mike Leake versus Luis Atilano. He went 2-for-3 in their first meeting last month. And he just smoked an RBI single up the middle in the fourth, adding to the Reds' lead. A run-scoring groundout by Cabrera makes it 5-1 as we head to the fifth.
8:25 p.m. -- Atilano is done after four innings and five runs allowed. His combined pitching line over his last four starts (including the one at Syracuse last week): 15.1 ip, 24 h, 19 er, 10 bb, 7 k. That's not good.
8:30 p.m. -- And here comes the tarp again before Doug Slaten can throw his first pitch in the bottom of the fifth. For what it's worth, this game is official now since the Nats hit in the top of the fifth and are trailing.
9:24 p.m. -- Rain delay update: It's not currently raining, but there's another major cell bearing down on the area, so they're waiting for that to pass before removing the tarp. Still going to be a while.
10:00 p.m. -- It's still raining here, and they just announced it's supposed to keep raining until 10:30 or 10:45. They'll then resume the game 30 minutes after that. Which means this game isn't getting back underway until at least 11 p.m. Anybody got coffee?
10:36 p.m. -- The rain has stopped at last, and the game will resume at 11 p.m. While you wait for the resumption, check out the homepage for news of the Nats' major signing of a top Cuban right-hander, Yuneski Maya, who according to Mike Rizzo could be ready to join a major-league rotation within weeks.
11:10 p.m. -- And we are back after a brief 2-hour, 40-minute delay. Doug Slaten pitching. Willie Harris in right field. Roger Bernadina in center field. Gotta believe Mike Leake won't return for the Reds.
11:45 p.m. -- So let's see ... we resumed play 35 minutes ago, and there still haven't been six outs recorded. Doug Slaten gave up three runs in the bottom of the fifth, and Micah Owings has already given up two in the top of the sixth (thanks to a Ryan Zimmerman homer). Now pitching for Cincinnati: Bill Bray. Remember him?
11:52 p.m. -- I don't know how many of you are still awake watching this, but it's proving to be worth the wait. The Nats have remarkably cut the lead to 8-7 in the middle of the sixth. Michael Morse came off the bench to rope a three-run triple off Bray. Ian Desmond followed with an RBI double. Tyler Clippard now coming on to pitch what is suddenly a competitive ballgame.
12:14 a.m. -- He may not have been pitching in a true setup role, but Clippard appears back in top form. Retired all six he faced in the sixth and seventh, striking out two. That's an encouraging sign.
12:24 a.m. -- After all this, the Nats are now three outs from still losing this game. Reds bullpen has retired seven straight after the six-run rally in the sixth. Matt Capps will pitch the bottom of the eighth, Nats still trailing 8-7.
12:38 a.m. -- Well, at least they kept it interesting. In the end, the Nats can't come all the way back from seven runs down. They lose their fourth straight, 8-7, nearly 5 1/2 hours after this game began. Stephen Strasburg, the last Nats pitcher to win a game, will try to stop the streak later tonight against 10-game winner Bronson Arroyo.