WASHINGTON -- During Spring Training, manager Matt Williams emphasized that the Nationals needed to improve their defense, which finished near the bottom of the National League last season.
The Nationals' problems on defense resurfaced on Saturday night, as they lost to the Braves, 6-2, at Nationals Park.
Washington gave right-hander Stephen Strasburg a 2-0 lead after one inning, thanks to a two-run homer by Adam LaRoche. But the defense began betraying Strasburg and the Nationals in the fourth.
With two outs and a runner on second in the fourth, Andrelton Simmons hit what looked like a routine ground ball to third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, whose high throw to first pulled LaRoche off the bag, with the ball tipping off the first baseman's glove and then bouncing into the stands, allowing Justin Upton to score to make it a one-run game.
Zimmerman was taken out of the game in the top of the sixth inning, and it was revealed that he has a sore right shoulder, which was a problem for him most of last season. He will be re-evaluated Sunday, according to Williams. Zimmerman felt pain in the shoulder as he threw the ball to LaRoche.
"We thought it prudent to get him out of there and make sure that everything is OK," Williams said about Zimmerman. "We want to make sure he is 100 percent healthy."
Braves starting pitcher Julio Teheran followed and singled down the right-field line, allowing Simmons -- who had advanced to second on Zimmerman's throwing error -- to score the tying run.
Strasburg got out of the inning, but he didn't finish the fifth as Atlanta scored four runs to take the lead. Dan Uggla drove in two runs with a single to left. On the same play, Bryce Harper's throwing error allowed Upton and Uggla to advance a base. Ryan Doumit then singled to right field, scoring Upton.
Strasburg left the game in favor of Aaron Barrett, who allowed a sacrifice fly to Simmons to make it a four-run game. Strasburg lasted 4 1/3 innings, allowing six runs -- three earned -- on eight hits, with three walks and six strikeouts.
"We haven't really been lighting it up offensively," Uggla said. "We've been doing enough to win games. So it was nice to get some hits with guys on base and in scoring position. You never want to give Strasburg too big of a cushion. Julio didn't have his best stuff tonight. But he battled and competed. That's what we expect out of him every time. We had all the confidence in the world that he was going to hold them there, and he did."
Strasburg said he didn't execute pitches in the fifth inning.
"You hit enough singles in a row, you are going to score a few runs," Strasburg said. "I don't feel like I got out of my game plan or anything. I really felt like I gave everything I had and battled. I just left some pitches up."
Teheran lasted seven innings, allowing just the two runs on three hits, with four walks and six strikeouts. He also collected two hits in the game.
"We had him on the ropes all night. We had chances with him all night. He made pitches when he had to," Williams said. "His velocity was up early in the game, and then it started to dip a little bit. He used his changeup, his breaking ball more. He had a two-seam fastball later. We had some chances."
The Nationals know the defending-division-champion Braves are the team to beat in the NL East, but, so far, the Braves are having their way with Washington.
"It's not going to be the last time we lose two in a row. It's just happens to be against the guys who have given us trouble the last few years" LaRoche said. "They seem to get the upper hand on us every night. Yeah, it gets frustrating, but I wouldn't sweat two games."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.