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Nats drop one they'd rather forget

Nats drop one they'd rather forget

ATLANTA -- The Nationals played sloppy baseball for the second consecutive game, and it cost them, as they lost to the Braves, 9-2, at Turner Field on Saturday night.

It was almost a repeat of Friday's game. The only difference was Braves left-hander Chuck James wasn't as dominant as John Smoltz, who nearly threw a no-hitter against Washington.

James lasted 6 1/3 innings and gave up two runs on eight hits. The only damage Washington did to James occurred in the seventh inning, when he gave up a two-run homer to Ronnie Belliard. By that time, however, the game was out of reach.

Nationals left-hander Matt Chico pitched one of his better games. He lasted five innings and didn't give up an earned run, but the team played shoddy defense behind him. With one out in the first inning, the Braves had a runner on first when Chipper Jones hit a tailor-made double-play ball to shortstop Felipe Lopez, who booted the easy chance for his 18th error.

The Braves took advantage of the gaffe. Mark Teixeira singled to left to load the bases. Chico then walked Jeff Francoeur to force home Edgar Renteria. Andruw Jones followed, and hit a sacrifice fly to plate Chipper Jones and give the Braves a 2-0 lead. Neither run was earned.

It would get worse in the fifth inning. With runners on first and second and no outs, Chipper Jones hit a long fly ball to center field. Nook Logan went back to the wall, jumped, and dropped the ball for an error.

"I went too close to the wall," Logan said. "I hit the wall and dropped the ball. That's it."

With the bases loaded, it looked like Chico had Teixeira struck out swinging. Home plate umpire Tim Welke asked first base umpire Jim Reynolds for help, and Reynolds ruled that Teixeira did not swing. The replay showed that Teixeira did, in fact, swing at the pitch.

Bench Pat Corrales put his hands up in air in disbelief. Reynolds then ejected Corrales from the game.

"It was my fault," Corrales said. "It's not my job. I acted like an idiot. I got ejected. I apologize to the players, [manager] Manny [Acta] and the organization. I thought [Teixeira struck out]."

Teixeira then hit a hard ground ball to third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who was able to get the force at third, but then threw the ball away when trying to get the double play at first, allowing Yunel Escobar to score. It was Zimmerman's fourth error of the three-game series, all of which were throwing errors. It also was Washington's eighth error in two games.

The question has to be asked: Does Zimmerman have the yips? Considered one of the best-fielding young third basemen in baseball, it's unlike Zimmerman to make this many throwing errors in just two games. For now, both Acta and Zimmerman are not concerned about the errors. Acta pointed out Zimmerman made some good throws to first base in Saturday's game.

"It's only been two games," Acta said. "I'll get concerned if he does it for a week straight or for a month. Anybody can have two bad games. He made four bad throws in two days. I've seen that before."

Zimmerman said simply that he shouldn't have rushed the throw to first base.

"I just rushed the double play," Zimmerman said. "I made the hardest play. I short-hopped it and I think I had a little bit more time. I feel fine. The first play I got in the game took a tough hop and I threw that one fine. It's not in my head or anything. I rushed and made a bad throw."

Francoeur then put the game out of reach when he hit a three-run homer that hit Austin Kearns' glove and went over the right-field wall.

"It was no earned runs," Chico said, "but it was one of those days that I made bad pitches. They didn't score because of errors. It was pitches after that. ... I just didn't execute my pitches.

Chico usually doesn't show his emotions, but after the fifth inning ended, the TV cameras panned on Chico, who was sitting next to pal Shawn Hill. It was clear that Chico was upset.

"[Francoeur's home run] was a slider," Chico said. "I wanted it in the dirt, but I left it up in the middle. I didn't execute the pitch. That's why I was upset. I knew he was going to swing and I wanted it in the dirt. It ended up being a big score."

While Chico was hard on himself, Acta felt that Chico did a good job. It was just that the defense betrayed him.

"Obviously, we haven't played good defense over the last two games and the [defense] is a big part of our team," Acta said. "We are not going to out-slug anybody. But our pitching and defense is a big part of what makes us win.

"Chico threw the ball well. Obviously, we didn't make some plays behind him. The numbers don't lie. The six runs were unearned, so he threw the ball well. We just couldn't play defense behind him."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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