Nationals relief pitcher Miguel Batista was sitting in the team chapel a few minutes before Tuesday night’s game against the Atlanta Braves.
The veteran was expecting to watch rookie Stephen Strasburg take the mound before a sellout crowd at Nationals Park. Then his day took a sudden U-turn.
Strasburg was experiencing shoulder inflammation during his warm-up session in the bullpen. Not wanting to take a chance with his health the Nats tabled their prized young pitcher and quickly tabbed Batista to replace him. All he did was pitch five shutout innings, allowing just three hits and a walk in a 3-0 Washington victory.
“I just tried to give the people what they came to see,” joked Batista, who has often served as a long reliever and spot starter during his 16-year big-league career. “They came to see a -year-old and they got someone who is almost 40. They were expecting 10 strikeouts, but I’m too old for 10.”
But he was good enough to register six strikeouts – pretty good for just five innings of work. That gave the Nats offense a chance. Nyjer Morgan stole second and third base in the first inning and then scored on a throwing error by Atlanta catcher Brian McCann. In the second, Ian Desmond drove in two runs with a single. That was all the offense Washington needed as relievers Sean Burnett, Drew Storen and Matt Capps kept the Braves at bay with a combined four scoreless innings and just two hits allowed.
“I’ve been in that situation before,” said Batista. “It’s part of my job. Physically I’m one of the few guys who can take the abuse.”
A murmur grew throughout the crowd when Batista began warming up in the bullpen just about 10 minutes before the scheduled first pitch. That grew into hearty boos when more fans realized Strasburg was not going to start the game. Boos again rained down onto the playing field a few minutes later when the Nats announced the reason for Strasburg’s absence on the scoreboard in right field.
“If you go there to see Miss Universe and you get Miss Iowa you might hear those kinds of boos,” Batista cracked. “But it’s okay. They have to understand that as an organization we have to make sure that the kid is fine. You don’t want to throw him out there and screw up the pitcher ... . We have enough guys here who can pick up the ball.”
The Nats didn’t need much offense against Braves starter Tommy Hanson, who gave up six hits in six innings and only one earned run. He also struck out eight batters. Washington managed just two singles from the third inning on – one of them a generous infield hit for Josh Willingham on a hard-hit ball at second baseman Martin Prado. Desmond was the only Washington batter with two hits on the night. The Nats – coming off a 3-7 road trip to start the second half of the season - snapped a three-game losing streak with the victory and improved to 43-57.
“You can’t explain how huge that was for us for [Batista] to perform like that,” Storen said. “And he’s done it. He’s come into tight spots all year and eaten up some innings for us. For him to go out there today and throw a [shutout] like he did and throw it over to the bullpen you can’t ask for anything better than that.”