Heroic Batista boosts Strasburg-less Nats

Heroic Batista boosts Strasburg-less Nats

WASHINGTON -- A crowd of 40,043 fans expected to see right-hander Stephen Strasburg make his 10th start of the season against the Braves at Nationals Park on Tuesday night.

However, Strasburg was scratched a few minutes before the game because of shoulder stiffness, but reliever Miguel Batista was solid in his place as the Nationals blanked the Braves, 3-0.

Batista was in the team's chapel when he found out that he was going to start the game. Batista's first thoughts were on Strasburg. Batista thought the worst had happened to him.

"My first reaction was to be worried about Strasburg," Batista said. "He is the future of this organization. My mind was, 'Wow, what is going on?' But after they told us that the shoulder was stiff, that took a lot of worries out of our minds. After that, I just listened to Cat [pitching coach Steve McCatty] and he said, 'Go out and give us the best you have and give us a chance.'"

Manager Jim Riggleman thought the game was going to be delayed because he felt Batista needed a lot of time to warm up, but Batista was ready to pitch by 7:08 p.m. ET. He received a round of boos from the fans when his name was announced, but understood why that was the case.

"Imagine if you go there to see Miss Universe and you end up having Miss Iowa. You might get those kind of boos," Batista said. "But it's OK. They have to understand that as an organization, we have to make sure that the kid is fine. You don't want to expose him out there.

"With a stiff shoulder, if you don't take care of it, you might end up having surgery. We have enough guys here that can pick up the ball and make sure that Strasburg is ready for his next start."

The last time Batista received short notice was back in 2001 with the D-backs. According to Batista, Curt Schilling had a stiff back and then manager Bob Brenly asked Batista to take the mound.

"I always believed that my mind has been ready since I left my country 22 years ago," Batista said. "Physically, it might be a little more demanding, but mentally, this is the big leagues. You should be ready to pitch."

Batista was ready to pitch. Batista tossed five shutout innings, allowing three hits, striking out six and walking one. The only time Atlanta had runners in scoring position was in the second and fifth inning.

Riggleman has a history with Batista and knows what the veteran can do on the mound. When they were with the Cubs and Mariners together, Batista pitched as both a starter and reliever.

"Miguel is a pro," Riggleman said. "He's done a little bit of everything for us this year. He's gotten a save, he's now started a game, he pitched in the middle, he's eaten up innings, he's gotten big outs and he's thrown back-to-back. He's just been a staff saver for us. Tonight, was a lot more than that. He was outstanding."

Braves third baseman Chipper Jones acknowledged that it took a while for his teammates to get used to Batista. They were prepared to deal with Strasburg.

"I think you could tell from the first couple of innings, we were just taking a lot of pitches and Coop [home-plate umpire Eric Cooper] had a more than generous strike zone back there," Jones said. "It took us a while to feel [Batista] out and feel the strike zone out. And we were down three runs because we played shoddy defense."

All three runs by Washington were scored in the first two innings off right-hander Tommy Hanson. In the first inning, Nyjer Morgan scored when Brian McCann threw the ball into left field on Morgan's steal of third base.

"Nyjer is an aggressive guy, he's been playing very well for some time now," Riggleman said. "He's been running the bases real good and getting great jumps. I think him getting on base immediately picked the whole ballclub up."

In the next inning, Ian Desmond drove in two runs with a single.

After Batista left the game, Sean Burnett, Drew Storen and Matt Caps blanked the Braves the rest of the way, with Capps picking up his 25th save of the season.

With the victory, the Nationals broke their three-game losing streak and improved their record to 43-57.

But more than that, they were relieved that Strasburg's injury wasn't serious.

"I think everybody was just concerned," Riggleman said. "Everybody knows how good [Strasburg] is and what he means to us. There was some concern for sure. But I think everybody got the message that, look, this is just precautionary, and he is going to be fine. Everybody did a great job."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.