VIERA, Fla. -- It looked like Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg was going to have his best outing of the spring on Monday afternoon, but he ended up taking the loss as the Braves won the game, 7-2, at Space Coast Stadium.
Strasburg was dominant in the first five innings, allowing no runs on one hit. He was so efficient that manager Davey Johnson allowed Strasburg to pitch the sixth inning, which is when the Braves scored six runs.
With the bases loaded and one out in the sixth, Justin Upton singled to left field to drive in Reed Johnson and Tyler Pastornicky. Two batters later, left-hander Zach Duke was in the game for Washington, and he couldn't stop the bleeding, allowing RBI hits to B.J. Upton, Ernesto Mejia and Blake Dewitt to make it a 6-0 game, with four of the runs charged to Strasburg.
Strasburg said he had problems keeping the ball down while pitching in the stretch during the sixth inning. Strasburg wants to hold runners better, and that means getting better while pitching in the stretch.
"I had a tough time holding runners, so I changed the way I set up in the stretch," Strasburg said. "I kind of got in between what I was working on and what I've done in the past. It's just being comfortable out there and getting the right feeling. Early on, I had the right feeling, and it started to go away, and I started missing more of my spots left and right and not throwing enough strikes."
Although Strasburg was charged with four runs, manager Davey Johnson was pleased that Strasburg became the first Nationals pitcher to go at least five innings.
"I thought he threw the ball great," Johnson said. "He threw about  pitches, which stretched him out, and that was great. I thought he pitched very well. He'll have another one where he throws that many pitches, and he'll be about right."
There were a lot of positives to take out of this game, according to Strasburg.
"Curveball is a lot better than it was last year. I'm starting to throw it from both sides of the plate," Strasburg said. "The fastball was pretty much there all day. The sinkers are getting better every time out."
Besides getting arm strength before the regular season starts, Strasburg wants to be himself on the mound.
"There are going to be games where you just really can't throw anything where you want to and you just have to battle," Strasburg said. "The biggest thing is to not try to reinvent the wheel every time you have a bad outing. I have to keep on fine-tuning everything and stay where I'm at."
Davey not worried about lack of lefty relievers
VIERA, Fla. -- The Nationals' lefty relievers have struggled during the exhibition season, allowing 14 runs in 20 innings.
In Monday's 7-2 loss to the Braves, for example, left-hander Zach Duke allowed two runs in two-thirds of an inning, while Fernando Abad allowed an RBI single to Blake Dewitt.
Late last year, the Nationals had productive left-handers in Tom Gorzelanny, Sean Burnett and Mike Gonzalez, who were all on the postseason roster. But Gorzelanny was non-tendered while Burnett and Gonzalez became free agents.
However, manager Davey Johnson is not worried about not having enough lefties in the bullpen. As of now, Duke is slated to be the only lefty in Washington's bullpen.
"We have guys who are good against both [righty and lefty hitters]," Johnson said. "I'm not really that concerned about it." Johnson said. "We lost three of them last year that were pretty instrumental [in helping the Nationals win the National League East title]. But we have [Rafael] Soriano. He is good either way. We have plenty of late-inning relief."
Nats' Garcia 'ready to go back in there'
VIERA, Fla. -- Nationals right-hander Christian Garcia said his right forearm is pain free and he is scheduled to play catch on Sunday. He still doesn't know when he will play in an exhibition game.
Garcia, the Nats' No. 15 prospect, has yet to play in an exhibition game because of ligament damage inside the forearm, but manager Davey Johnson expects him to be ready for Opening Day. Garcia more than likely will be one of the relievers in the bullpen.
"I feel great, I feel positive. I've felt positive the whole time," Garcia said. "I knew it would go away. I finally don't feel anything. I'm ready to go back in there."
Before playing catch, Garcia is exercising his arm in a bucket of rice, according to Johnson. It's the same technique made famous by Hall of Famer Steve Carlton.
"He can [exercise his arm], but he can't throw yet," Johnson said about Garcia. "But I know he is champing at the bit. I know the [medical people] are being real cautious with him. They are making sure that things completely heal before he starts throwing. Hopefully, it will be before the week is out. "
Zimmermann to start Wednesday vs. Mets
VIERA, Fla. -- Nationals right-hander Jordan Zimmermann is expected to pitch against the Mets at Space Coast Stadium on Wednesday. In his last start, against the Cardinals this past Friday, Zimmermann had a dead arm.
Zimmermann pitched three innings and allowed eight runs on nine hits. St. Louis went to work on Zimmermann in the second, scoring two runs. David Freese scored on a groundout by Rob Johnson, while Shane Robinson scored on a single by Ronny Cedeno to make it 2-0.
The Cardinals sent 10 hitters to the plate in the third and scored six runs off Zimmermann. Johnson and Greg Garcia highlighted the scoring with two-run hits.
Zimmermann said on Saturday that he doesn't have any concern about his arm.
"I get the same thing every year -- 2011, 2012. It's the same spot. The same time of year," Zimmermann said. "It's just building up the pitches and throwing more pitches. It will be gone in a few days and I'll be ready for the season. Every year, I get the same thing. Nothing to be worried about at all."
Karns shut down with tightness in leg
VIERA, Fla. -- Nationals right-hander Nathan Karns has been shut down because of tightness in his upper right leg. Manager Davey Johnson said Karns must get an X-ray before the doctor can determine what is wrong with the right-hander.
"I wish we had taken the X-Ray. We did not now we would require that to get a true evaluation," Johnson said.
Karns, the Nats' No. 6 prospect, had his toughest outing of the spring Friday against the Cardinals, allowing seven runs (one earned) in two-thirds of an inning.
"[The injury] is a distraction right now for me," Karns said on Friday. "It's something that I feel every pitch. I'm out there not fully committed to the pitch. It's in the back of my mind. I don't know what's going on with it."
Karns has been dealing with tightness in his right leg since March 2.
• Right-hander Ross Ohlendorf will start against the Astros in Kissimmee, Fla., on Wednesday. The Nationals have split-squad games that day.
• Rafael Soriano pitched against the Braves on Monday even though he had requested not to face a National League East team this spring.
• Former Nationals and Indians manager Manny Acta has joined ESPN and ESPN Deportes as an MLB analyst.
"I'm excited to bring my insights and opinions to both English and Spanish-speaking audiences on ESPN and ESPN Deportes," Acta said in a press release. "I love talking about baseball, so being a Baseball Tonight analyst is a perfect job for me."
Acta, who managed the game based on the philosophy similar to the style of the Athletics' "Moneyball," was 158-252 in two-plus years with the Nationals, while going 214-266 in three years with the Indians.
In addition to his experience on the baseball field, Acta has previously served as a Spanish-language baseball analyst for Fox Sports.
• Nationals reliever Henry Rodriguez pitched two-thirds of an inning for Nationals on Monday. According to Johnson, pitching coach Steve McCatty wanted to limit Rodriguez's pitch count. After having two days off, Rodriguez will pitch every other day. Rodriguez had missed most of Spring Training because of a tight right biceps.
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.