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Nats hurler misses mark

Mattheus can't find strike zone in losing effort

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ATLANTA -- Ryan Mattheus has been giving the Washington Nationals almost exactly what they needed from a steady relief pitcher.

That wasn't the case this time.

"I just couldn't find the (strike) zone," Mattheus said. "I just couldn't throw strikes. That's inexcusable. I didn't give us a chance to win that game."

Pinch-runner Jeff Baker scored the go-ahead run in the eighth inning when Mattheus hit Andrelton Simmons' uniform with a bases-loaded pitch that led to Washington's 5-4 loss to the Atlanta Braves on Saturday.

Jason Heyward and Freeman homered for Atlanta, which has won the first two games in the series and nine of 13.

The Braves won 2-1 on Friday when Simmons scored on a throwing error in the ninth inning.

Atlanta began the day with a seven-game lead over third-place Los Angeles in the NL wild-card race, but Heyward said the team's focus is on passing the Nationals in the standings.

"I feel like the last two times we've played them we've done better," Heyward said. "We've taken strides and just tried to hang in there and keep battling."

Braves closer Craig Kimbrel earned his 36th save in 39 tries after striking out the side. After pinch-runner Eury Perez stole second and made it to third on catcher J.P. Boscan's throwing error, Kimbrel struck out Stephen Lombardozzi and pinch-hitter Tyler Moore to end it.

Eric O'Flaherty (3-0) faced the minimum in the eighth for Atlanta, extending his scoreless innings streak to 19 1/3 innings, a span of 22 games.

Mattheus (5-2) allowed one hit, one walk, two walks and no strikeouts.

With the game tied 4-4 in the eighth, David Ross led off the eighth with a single off Mattheus and moved to second one out later when Uggla walked. Baker pinch-ran for Ross before Chipper Jones walked to load the bases.

Mattheus hit Simmons' uniform to give Simmons an RBI when Baker scored to make it 5-4.

Mattheus was disappointed, particularly after going 2-0 with a 1.16 ERA and holding opponents to a .162 average in 22 appearances dating back to Aug. 1.

But only nine of his 23 pitches were strikes.

"I threw a lot of strikes in the 'pen," Mattheus said. "It's just a lack of focus out there. It just didn't translate. I let the guys down today. That's one thing, you throw one strike and it's like, 'OK, there it is.' I just never threw that one strike."

Nationals manager Davey Johnson was ejected for the first time this season for arguing what appeared to be a blown call in the sixth that led to Atlanta scoring two runs to make it 4-all.

Washington starting pitcher Edwin Jackson knocked down Martin Prado's liner, picked up the ball off the mound and threw to first baseman Adam LaRoche.

First-base umpire Marvin Hudson ruled that Jackson's throw pulled LaRoche right foot off the bag, but television replays showed that likely wasn't the case and that Prado should've been called out.

Johnson was upset that Hudson refused to ask another umpire for help in making sure the call was correct.

"I've got old eyes and I could see it," Johnson said. "I thought he overreacted. He wasn't going to get any help. It was a big run."

Jackson was charged with a throwing error on the play, and Heyward, the next batter, made it 4-all with his 27th homer, a two-run shot.

Jackson gave up four hits and four runs -- three earned -- with one walk and seven strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings.


-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 16, 2012 B12

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