Braves lose Smoltz to injury, fall to Nats

Braves lose Smoltz to injury, fall to Nats

WASHINGTON -- From a medical standpoint, the Braves were able to exit RFK Stadium on Monday night feeling somewhat relieved that John Smoltz hadn't suffered a severe injury to his pitching hand.

But at the same time, they still hadn't exactly figured out why they have had so much trouble against Jason Bergmann. They aren't the only team that has had trouble solving the Nationals' 25-year-old right-hander this year. But they now stand as the only club that he has defeated this year

On the way to earning his first win of the season, Bergmann flirted with a no-hitter and gave Smoltz further reason to want to avoid any future matchups against him. With their young hurler leading the way, the Nationals claimed a 2-1 win, handing the Braves a second consecutive loss for the first time since April 13.

"I don't know what [Bergmann's] record is against other teams," said Andruw Jones, who stranded the potential tying run at second base with a game-ending strikeout against Jesus Colome. "He's just got our number."

About the only thing that the Braves could take solace in was the fact that Smoltz didn't suffer any sort of fracture during a seventh-inning rundown. As he tagged Austin Kearns coming toward the plate, he dislocated his right pinky finger. He was forced to leave immediately in extreme pain. But there's a chance he'll start Saturday's game against the Red Sox.

"It wasn't much of a birthday present for him," Braves first baseman Scott Thorman said in reference to Smoltz, who will turn 40 on Tuesday.

The previous time the Braves lost two straight was April 12-13, and that small skid began with Bergmann's first dominant performance against them. On that night, he allowed one hit over six scoreless innings and saw his team tally two eighth-inning runs off Smoltz in a 2-0 win.

During this second encounter, he was even more dominant. His no-hit bid was intact until Brian McCann began the eighth inning with a solo homer. After allowing a leadoff single to Matt Diaz to begin the ninth, Bergmann exited to a standing ovation and accepted a curtain call.

Bergmann surrendered just two hits over eight scoreless innings and had notched a career-high 10 strikeouts by the time the sixth inning concluded. In 14 innings against the Braves this year, he's allowed one run and three hits.

"It was his night," Thorman said. "He threw the ball really well. He had us on our heels all night. The strikeouts don't lie and the numbers don't lie. He threw the ball very well."

Smoltz was almost equally as efficient. The only hit he allowed through the first five innings was a Cristian Guzman triple that got by a diving Thorman at first base and traveled into the right-field corner. One batter later, Guzman scored on a Ryan Zimmerman groundout.

For a while, that one run looked like it might be enough for Bergmann, who has allowed one run or less in five of his past seven starts. But he was fortunate to get some added cushion in the seventh, when Kearns followed a Ryan Church leadoff single with an RBI double.

"Even in that inning, I felt confident that I could keep it at one run and ultimately we could win, 2-1," said Smoltz, who allowed two runs and four hits over 6 2/3 innings.

With runners at the corners and one out in the seventh, Ryan Langerhans once again hurt the Braves with his inability to make contact at the plate. On April 29, they traded him to the A's, who three days later sent him to the Nationals, because of his lack of offensive production.

On Monday, it was his inability to get down a suicide squeeze bunt that prompted the rundown with Kearns. As he applied the tag, Smoltz's pinky made solid contact with the Nationals outfielder's left elbow. The resulting dislocation forced Smoltz to exit an already frustrating game in a extremely painful manner.

"I just never felt more in control this season," said Smoltz, who entered this game having won three straight starts and four consecutive decisions. "Ultimately, I also in a weird way didn't feel like I was in the game because [Bergmann] was so dominating."

Other than McCann, the Braves had just one baserunner reach as far as second base through the first eight innings. That come in the fourth, when Kelly Johnson drew a leadoff walk and then stole second. He was stranded as Bergmann proceeded to retire each of the next 12 batters that he faced.

Diaz's ninth-inning leadoff single came on Bergmann's season-high 110th pitch.

"We know what he is throwing," Jones said. "We just can't hit it."

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