WASHINGTON (AP) — Talk about adding injury to insult. After blowing a nine-run lead to drop the series opener to the Braves, the Washington Nationals lost Bryce Harper to a bruised left ankle during a 4-0 defeat to Atlanta on Saturday.
The 19-year old outfielder won't start the second game of the day-night doubleheader as the Nationals attempt to recover from a brutal 24 hours.
The first-place Nationals wasted a strong outing from starter Edwin Jackson and now find themselves only 1½ games ahead of the second-place Braves. Washington has lost three straight including Friday's 11-10 stunner in 11 innings.
Harper fouled a bunt off his ankle in the bottom of the first inning. Limping and doubled over in pain for several moments, he completed the at-bat by striking out. The first-time All-Star returned to center field in the second inning, but Roger Bernadina replaced him on defense for the top of the third with the Nationals trailing 1-0.
"He was down hitting, trying to swing with it, and Michael Morse and (Adam) LaRoche saw him and said he can't even swing," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. "So, that's why I took him out."
Johnson said the examination of Harper's ankle revealed that there was no break.
"Just a bruise, he'll be fine," Johnson said of his prized rookie, who is batting .269 with eight home runs and 26 RBIs in 71 games this season.
"It was pretty swollen the inning after it happened, when I looked at it," LaRoche said. "I told him if you can go, go, but we understand. We've all been hit like that and it hurts. If you can't get around in the outfield, tell somebody."
Braves starter Ben Sheets (2-0) threw six shutout innings, outdueling Jackson (5-6), who matched his season high with nine strikeouts with one run and five hits over seven innings.
His one mistake was Brian McCann's solo homer in the second inning, a high drive that landed over the right-center wall. The Braves catcher has homered in three straight games and has seven in his last 10.
"My guy did a heck of a job too. Just one bad pitch to McCann, but he battled. He seemed to get stronger as the game went on," Johnson said. "You just tip your hat — the other guys did a good job."
The Braves, winners of three in a row, have done a good job for two straight games against Washington.
Atlanta added another in the eighth as Michael Bourn scored on a wild pitch by reliever Henry Rodriquez. Chipper Jones, entering as a pinch-hitter in the ninth with a runner on, clobbered the first offering from Ryan Mattheus over the right field wall.
With light rain falling intermittently, Sheets extended his scoreless inning streak to 12, though the Nationals had opportunities. Washington put runners on in five of the opening six innings and three times had two men on base, but could not capitalize. The Nationals finished 0 of 7 with runners in scoring position.
Sheets struck out LaRoche with two on to end the first. With runners on the corners and one out in the third, he induced Morse into a double-play grounder. After allowing a single and one-out walk in the sixth, the 33-year-old nimbly recorded the final two outs, including another strikeout of LaRoche.
"It's a frustrating game, but we're still in first place so things could be worse," LaRoche said.
Like if Harper's injury keeps him out for several games.
Note: The opening game was a makeup for the June 1 rainout. ... With two RBIs, Jones has 1,600 for his career. ... Nationals OF Steve Lombardozzi and Braves 1B Freddie Freeman had their hitting streaks end at 13 and 11 games, respectively. ... The Braves recalled RHP Randall Delgado to start the nightcap of Saturday's doubleheader against John Lannan, making his 2012 debut.
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