ATLANTA -- Although the Nationals have struggled of late, losing three of four and eight of 12 heading into Friday night's weekend series opener in Atlanta, little of the blame can be pinned on the bullpen. In fact, the bullpen earned the lion's share of the credit for Friday night's series-opening 3-2 win over the Braves at Turner Field.
Prior to the game, manager Davey Johnson sang the praises of the unit, especially the work of Drew Storen and Fernando Abad.
"The pitching staff has had a few ups and downs, but I like where we're at, basically, there," said Johnson. "Storen is throwing the ball better. Abad's been a big help, Henry [Rodriguez is] doing his thing. If we could get [closer Rafael] Soriano some more work, I'll be happy."
Thanks to the 'pen, Johnson was a very happy man on Friday night.
Despite having to fill seven innings when starter Stephen Strasburg exited with a strained right oblique after only two innings of work, the bullpen kept Atlanta at bay and allowed Washington to come away with the win.
Craig Stammen, a former starter, led the way, throwing four perfect innings -- the longest relief appearance of his career -- with three strikeouts. Tyler Clippard, Storen and Rafael Soriano also put up zeros. Together the quartet allowed only one run (by Clippard in the seventh) on two hits (also by Clippard), with one walk (Storen) and eight strikeouts. Clippard struggled some with his control but still struck out the side, pitching out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam of his own making.
Storen's scoreless frame continued his trend, as he's not allowed a run in five of his last six outings, covering 5 1/3 innings. Abad, who was called up from Triple-A Syracuse on May 21, has allowed one hit in his four appearances (2 1/3 innings). He'll be the freshest arm available for Saturday's game.
"Storen early on was just trying to over-throw and was leaving everything up, and his movement was kind of on the same plane," said Johnson. "But a hard thrower can throw that ball down, and he can go up top, but he just can't stay there. He's had better location.
"I like that [Abad] has come in so far and thrown strikes and gone after hitters."
Harper still sore, likely to miss Braves series
ATLANTA -- Don't count on seeing Bryce Harper in the lineup this weekend.
Harper missed the entire four-game Interleague series with Baltimore with continued soreness in his left knee, was not in the lineup for Friday's series opener with Atlanta and, according to manager Davey Johnson, is a no-go the rest of the weekend.
Johnson said that his mind was pretty much made up about Friday's game well before he arrived at Turner Field. In fact, he hadn't even made it to the hotel before he'd decided.
"I knew he was in bad shape. He walked in front of my bus getting off the airplane last night, limping. So I knew right then and there that he was out today," said Johnson. "It's bothering him. We have to try to figure out ... what we are going to do to get him by that."
Harper hurt the knee running into the wall at Dodger Stadium on May 13, then aggravated it against Philadelphia on May 26. Harper, who was hitting .287 with a team-high 12 homers and 23 RBIs prior to being hurt, hit .226 in the nine games following.
Though he is in a wait-and-see mode with Harper, Johnson seems determined not to put him on the 15-day disabled list.
"We'll see how he is after this weekend and then go from there," he said. "But for now it's not swollen enough to where you would drain it or anything, but it's swollen enough to cause discomfort.
"He's a tough guy. He would play if at all possible. But he's gimpy, and he's too good a talent to take any chance on further injury. So he's not going out there until it's better. That's for dang sure."
Werth has big night for Potomac
ATLANTA -- Whereas Bryce Harper's season has ground to something of a halt, Jayson Werth's may be getting back up to speed.
Werth, who injured his right hamstring during the Nationals' April series in Atlanta, had a huge night for Class A Potomac, which feasted as well, chalking up a 10-1 win over Lynchburg on Friday.
In seven innings, the veteran outfielder went 2-for-4 with a double, an RBI and two runs scored. He also walked and scored, rounding the bases in both a four-run first inning and a five-run second.
Prior to Washington's game in Atlanta, manager Davey Johnson said he'd talk with Werth afterward. They'll have plenty to talk about.
"Jayson Werth is the best judge of Jayson Werth," said Johnson. "After he plays today, we'll see how much effort he is [giving]. He's been staying under 90 percent effort. He's worried about that last 10 percent effort he gives coming out of the box. It bothered him before. Hopefully, we can get by that, and hopefully, he should be good to go on Tuesday."
Werth, who was hitting .260 with four homers and 10 RBIs at the time of the injury, hit .571 over his three previous rehab games.
As expected, the loss of both Harper and Werth has hurt the Nationals offensively, and prior to Friday's game, Johnson issued a challenge to those called upon to fill in.
"Losing Jayson Werth was a big blow, because he was in that part of the lineup that kind of kept other clubs throwing left-handers against us," he said. "Our bench hasn't done the things they were doing last year that they're certainly capable of doing, but they just haven't stepped it up. So having both of them out, it's a big blow. But again, I look at it as an opportunity for other guys to express their talent. They need to start doing it. We're not just based on one or two guys. We showed that last year."
Jon Cooper is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.