Braves continue to be flustered by Nats

Braves remain flustered by Nats

WASHINGTON -- This was certainly a night Yunel Escobar would like to forget, and just another that forced him and his Braves teammates to face the fact that they have been utterly dominated by the Nationals throughout this season.

Since providing the first bruise the Braves encountered during this painful season, the Nationals have continued to land devastating punches. The latest damage came courtesy of the series-opening, 7-3 win they claimed in front of their home crowd at Nationals Park on Friday night.

When Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman beat them with a walk-off homer on Opening Night, the Braves didn't realize this was just the start of what would become their worst season since 1990. Nor was there any reason to believe that this would be just the first of eight losses they'd incur during their first 12 games against the Nationals.

"They're a good club," All-Star catcher Brian McCann said of the Nationals, who have claimed 16 percent (eight of 50) of their wins against the Braves. "They've beaten us eight out of 12. Numbers can speak for themselves."

While allowing five earned runs and eight hits in 3 2/3 innings, Braves starter Jorge Campillo produced some numbers that certainly didn't bring him any satisfaction. But the most damaging statistic of the night seemingly came from the fact that Escobar grounded into three double plays, matching the franchise record set by Walter Cruise in 1921 and repeated by Joe Adcock in 1955.

On the way to suffering their 14th loss in their past 18 games, the Braves found the tone of the game set when Escobar grounded into a double play with one out and the bases loaded in the first inning. This marked the second straight game in which the Braves were held scoreless after loading the bases in the first inning.

"Esky is having a tough time," said manager Bobby Cox of his 25-year-old shortstop, who has grounded into five double plays over the past three games and now stands just one away from the Atlanta record of 24, set by Dale Murphy in 1988 and matched by Andruw Jones in 2004.

"Escobar's approach is as good as anybody's in baseball," Cox said. "I don't want him to change anything. Usually, his double plays are bullets hit right at somebody."

Escobar's final double-play groundout came in the eighth inning, after McCann followed Chipper Jones' leadoff walk with a single. Facing a four-run deficit, the Braves had a potential rally brewing against Saul Rivera. But with the rally thwarted, they were forced to pay for the early damage suffered by Campillo.

"I missed a lot of my spots," Campillo said. "That's the problem with me. I can't miss a lot. I'm not a power pitcher."

Nationals shortstop Cristian Guzman, who hit for the cycle while leading his team to a series sweep of the Dodgers on Thursday, continued his hot-hitting ways with a first-inning double that accounted for the game's first run one batter later, when Zimmerman's single drove him in. He also capped a two-run second inning with an RBI single that gave him his 11th hit in a span of 14 at-bats.

Campillo encountered regular misfortunes in the second inning. Elijah Dukes' sharp leadoff double short-hopped Jones and found its way into left field. Two batters later, with Jeff Francoeur drawn in, Emilio Bonifacio lofted a triple that landed just short of the warning track in right-center field. Then Guzman capped things with a single that landed just in front of Francoeur.

When Campillo exited after Lastings Milledge's two-run fourth-inning single, it marked his shortest (non-weather-related) start of the season. The 29-year-old right-hander has gone 1-3 with a 7.86 ERA in his past five starts. In the six starts that preceded this skid, he was 3-1 with a 1.77 ERA.

"When the season started, I was thinking about hitter-to-hitter and pitch-to-pitch," Campillo said. "I think tonight I was thinking too much."

McCann's thoughts were that his starting pitcher would have fared better with some second-inning luck and some help from an offense that was limited by Nationals starter Odalis Perez, who allowed three runs -- two earned -- and seven hits in 6 1/3 innings and beat the Braves for the second time this year.

Recording two hits in 12 at-bats with runners in scoring position and stranding eight runners, the Braves did all of their damage after Omar Infante began the fifth inning with a double. Two batters later, Greg Norton drilled a pinch-hit, two-out, two-run homer.

But after Martin Prado's RBI double cut the deficit to 5-3, Jones grounded out to end the inning. The Braves third baseman, who owns a Major League-best .358 batting average, has four hits in his past 19 at-bats with runners in scoring position.

"Everything gets magnified when you don't swing the bats," McCann said.

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