In came journeyman Miguel Batista, who three-hit the Braves through the first five innings of a 3-0 loss most notable because of who didn't pitch.
Braves starter Tommy Hanson made a drastic change, too, moving from the third-base side of the rubber to the first-base side at the suggestion of pitching coach Roger McDowell. The results through six innings were encouraging -- eight strikeouts.
But the focus remained on Strasburg, despite Atlanta's ninth shutout loss of the season and fourth setback in six games.
"Everybody wanted to know what happened," Braves third baseman Chipper Jones said. "He's been the story of the year, and I'm sure for the hour in and around seven o'clock, I'm sure [Strasburg] was the talk of baseball again."
Many in the sellout crowd of 40,043 had yet to settle into their seats when the announcement that Batista would make the start brought a chorus of boos from fans who turn every Strasburg start into a festive celebration.
"I think a lot of people come to see Strasburg pitch [and were] disappointed in the fact that they are not going to be able to see him," said Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo. "Unfortunately, I can't worry about that. I need to worry about the long-term longevity of the pitcher and what is good for the franchise."
The Braves expressed concern for Strasburg's condition, and not just because they were looking forward to testing the hard-throwing rookie.
"You never like to hear of anything of someone of his stature being hurt, because it's bad for the game," Jones said. "We've spent the last two days trying to get mentally ready for the big flamethrower, and five minutes before, we get Batista. Not to make any excuses. We played like [crud] and got beat."
The Braves had trouble adjusting to Batista's pinpoint control. Instead of facing 100-mph heat and knee-buckling curves, they were ill-prepared for Batista's selection of cutters, sliders and fastballs that topped out in the low 90s. Batista, making his first start since Aug. 4, 2008, for Seattle, walked one and struck out six.
"[Batista] threw the ball just off the plate," Jones said. "He kept the ball out of the middle of the plate. That's what any successful pitcher [does]. I don't care what your repertoire is, I don't care how hard you throw -- if you don't throw the ball down the middle, you'll get some soft outs and a bunch of outs. He did that."
Neither Jones nor Braves manager Bobby Cox faulted the Nationals for pulling Strasburg, who was diagnosed with inflammation of his right shoulder after precautionary X-rays and an MRI showed no serious damage. Strasburg, who couldn't get loose warming up for his 10th career start, is day-to-day, and it remains to be seen whether he will make his next scheduled start.
"I know the fans were disappointed," Cox said, "but what are you going to do? He didn't feel well warming up so they did the smart thing. That's for darned sure."
Jones went a step further, speaking of what Strasburg -- the 21-year-old who signed a $15.1 million contract after being taken first overall in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft -- means to Washington.
"I applaud what the Nationals did, because that's their franchise for the next 15 years," Jones said. "If [Strasburg] wakes up with a hangnail, I'm pulling him out. I want to protect my investment, protect that arm for the next 20 years. As he goes, they're going to go."
Strasburg's surprising no-show and Batista's impressive fill-in overshadowed an impressive outing by Hanson (8-7), whose winless streak stretched to four starts. The right-hander, 1-4 over his past seven outings, allowed three runs, one earned, on six hits over six innings without issuing a walk.
Hanson heeded McDowell's advice to shift to the other side of the rubber and was able to get a little extra on his pitches.
"I think it allows me to stay on my pitches a lot longer," Hanson said. "When I was on the opposite side, I was kind of spinning, trying to get to the outside corner against the righty. A lot of my fastballs were cutting, my slider flattened out and everything was just going sideways. This way, I moved over a little bit and was able to stay on [the ball] longer and get my pitches some more depth."
Unfortunately, Hanson did a poor job holding baserunners and the Nationals stole four bases against him and catcher Brian McCann. Two of the thefts, combined with McCann's throwing error, put the Nationals ahead 1-0 in the first. Jones' throwing error in the second led to a pair of unearned runs.
"I tried to work in my slide step as much as possible, but every time they see my leg go up, that's when they take off," Hanson explained. "I've just got to find something between the two that will give [McCann] a chance to throw them out."
In the first, Nyjer Morgan led off with a single to center, stole second and then swiped third, scoring when McCann's throw sailed into left field. Roger Bernadina hit a leadoff single in the second and Ivan Rodriguez followed with a bouncer to third, but Jones threw wildly to second on a force attempt, putting runners at second and third. Ian Desmond followed with a two-run single to center.
After Batista departed, Sean Burnett threw two scoreless innings, Drew Storen worked the eighth and Matt Capps pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for his 25th save.
"Everything that could have gone wrong tonight did, and it cost us a 3-0 loss," Jones said.
Pete Kerzel is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.