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David Brown

Nationals' Batista subs for Strasburg, pitches a beauty

Big League Stew

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Right-hander Miguel Batista(notes) came up big for the Washington Nationals, tossing five shutout innings as a last-moment replacement against the division-leading Atlanta Braves.

Not that Batista was gloating. He realized, despite the Nats' 3-0 victory, that 40,000-plus fans in D.C. were a little bummed out Tuesday night.

They came to see Stephen Strasburg(notes).

In an unfortunate first for the rookie phenom of phenoms, Strasburg was scratched in warmups because of a stiff shoulder. He was replaced by a journeyman with a 4.54 ERA in 566 career appearances who was making his first start since 2008.

When told of the switch, fans at Nationals Park responded with boos. They booed again, before the third inning started, when the change was further explained.

It's not hard to understand why: They canceled Strasmas!

Nats fans — and Stasburg fans — you have Batista's sympathies. He, too, wanted to celebrate Strasmas. Not ... Batistmas.

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Via the Associated Press:

"Imagine if you go there to see Miss Universe," Batista said, "and you end up having Miss Iowa."

But Batista was quite good, striking out six and walking one.

"I just tried to give the people what they came to see," he said with a smile. "They came to see a 20-year-old; They end up having an almost 40-year-old."

Not only was it a great job in spot duty, Batista might have generated the quote of the year.

I suspect Batista was just trying to make a point and has no substantive ill will toward the beauty queens of Iowa in the respective Miss America and Miss Universe pageant pipelines.

(But maybe he had a bad experience back in '97 when he came up through the Cubs system.)

Regardless, players from both sides agreed with his sentiment about Strasburg being a no-go.

"It lets a little air out of your chest," Nats outfielder Nyjer Morgan(notes) said.

No less of an authority than Braves infielder Chipper Jones(notes) — also a former No. 1 overall pick — said tomorrow is much more important than one start in Strasburg's rookie season.

"For him not to pitch was a little disappointing, but I applaud what the Nationals did, because that's their franchise for the next 15 years, and if he wakes up with a hangnail, I'm pulling him out," Jones said. "I want to protect my investment, protect that arm for the next 20 years. Because as he goes, they're going to go."

It's difficult to argue with pitching coach Steve McCatty (pictured with Strasburg) and the rest of the Nats' brain trust. Shutting him down was the right thing to do. But it's also impossible to escape a certain empty feeling.

Who doesn't want to open their presents on Strasmas?

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