Floyd injury casts cloud over Braves’ shutout win against Nats

Credit: Harry E. Walker

Credit: Harry E. Walker

WASHINGTON – With one pitch in the seventh inning Thursday, Gavin Floyd's night went from dominant to devastating when the Braves pitcher left a 3-0 win against the Nationals with a fractured right elbow.

Floyd was tossing a two-hit shutout when he threw a curveball to Jayson Werth to start the seventh inning and began shaking his right arm. Television cameras showed a knot form immediately on his pitching elbow, not far from the scar from the Tommy John ligament-reconstruction surgery that Floyd had in May 2012.

“What a shame,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “To come all the way back from Tommy John…. We’ve got to wait till he sees the doctors. But it’s a shame. I just spent some time with him. He’s in a good mood. The best mood he could be in. I feel for the young man.”

After an X-ray taken at the ballpark, a Nationals team doctor diagnosed the fracture of the olecranon, the curved bony end of the ulna. It’s what might commonly be referred to as the tip of the elbow. Floyd, 31, will fly to Atlanta to be examined by Braves doctors on Friday and have other scans performed, but he’s presumably done for the season.

“On that last pitch I felt a pop,” said Floyd, who felt some discomfort in the area prior to the fateful pitch. “(The fracture) wasn’t painful, at least… We’ll see what happens with the doctors and everything like that, see what’s going to happen from here on. But knowing that I’ll at least be out for a little bit, it’s disappointing that I can’be there for the team to help out.”

Floyd was told that the fracture is unrelated to the Tommy John surgery to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament. He also had a torn flexor tendon repaired at the same time as the “TJ” surgery.

The injury cast a cloud over what had been a splendid night for Floyd and the Braves, who improved to 23-7 in their past 30 games against the Nationals including 6-1 this season. Atlanta pulled to within a half-game of first-place Washington atop the National League East standings.

Floyd is from nearby Annapolis, Md., and had his parents and in-laws at the game along with his wife, Leanna, and their young son, Jax.

Braves head trainer Jeff Porter came on the field after Floyd threw his seventh-inning pitch and started to walk around the mound holding his arm out and trying to loosen it. Porter quickly walked to the dugout with Floyd (2-2), who won his second consecutive decision in his ninth start, allowing two hits and one walk with six strikeouts in six innings.

“He was pitching great, he was cruising, and we had some runs on the board,” Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said. “I feel so bad for him. He’s pitching probably the best game of the year so far. I just feel for him.”

Three Braves relievers worked an inning apiece to complete the three-hit shutout to open a four-game series and give the Braves their 23rd win in the past 30 games against the Nationals, including six of seven this season.

Floyd signed as a free agent last winter and spent the first five weeks of the season on the disabled list completing his year-long surgery rehab. He lowered his ERA to 2.65 on Thursday with his first scoreless outing of the season, to go with four other starts in which he allowed just one earned run.

“For those six innings, I mean he was dealing,” said third baseman Chris Johnson, who drove in all three runs with a bases-loaded single in the fourth and an RBI single in the eighth. “I mean, he was nasty. It’s really a tough break.

“We’ve got to keep moving forward. Hopefully it’s not too bad and we can get him back. But we’ve got to keep going.”

The Braves have Alex Wood at Triple-A getting stretched out again for a return to a starting role, and the young left-hander could be ready to replace Floyd right away. He began the year in the rotation, but Wood pitched out of the bullpen for a month before the Braves sent him down to build up his arm strength and stamina again to start.

Wood made his second Triple-A start Wednesday and pitched five strong innings.

Floyd won a pitcher’s duel against Nationals ace Jordan Zimmermann (5-4), who allowed just one runner to reach base until the Braves got three consecutive one-out singles in the fourth inning. Johnson probably wasn’t the guy that fans across Braves Country wanted to see coming to bat with the bases loaded, since he led the NL with 13 double plays grounded into before stepping to the plate in a scoreless game with out and the bags full.

As if on cue, Johnson hit a bases-loaded grounder up the middle toward second base … and it got through.

Just beyond the reach of the second baseman and shortstop and into center field, the single drove in two runs, and the Braves took big step toward a much-needed win to start their 11-game trip, after being swept in a three-game home series against the Phillies this week and falling out of first place.

Relievers Anthony Varvaro, Jordan Walden and Craig Kimbrel pitched an inning apiece for the Braves, with Kimbrel recording his 21st save. Varvaro replaced Floyd and gave up a leadoff double to Werth in the seventh, then induced three consecutive groundouts to get out of the inning.

The Braves loaded the bases in the fourth on singles by Freeman, Evan Gattis and Jason Heyward, with Gattis extending his hitting streak to 18 games. That’s tied for the second-longest in the majors this season and three games longer than the former franchise record for catchers going back to 1900.

“You don’t ever think you’re going to get that many hits in a row off a guy like Zimmermann,” said Freeman, whose three hits including a pair of doubles after Zimmermann left the game. “He’s the ace of their staff, he’s the most consistent guy. You don’t ever think you’re going to put up a crooked number against a guy like that. So to be able to do it definitely got the momentum for us.”

Zimmermann had posted a 0.36 ERA in three June starts before Thursday, and the Nationals had won seven of their past eight home games while outscoring opponents 55-22.

The Braves had been 8-14 with a 4.76 ERA in their past 22 games, while the Nationals had reeled off a 12-6 run with a 2.48 ERA to take over first place in the division.

But when the two teams met for the first time since mid-April, they reverted to recent form in which the Braves have consistently outplayed and outpitched the Nationals, regardless of whether the games were in Atlanta or Washington.

“They’re a really good team, so I’m not sure” why the Braves play so well against the Nationals, Johnson said. “We came off a really tough series at home, and I think we kind of wanted to get it going against anybody we were facing. It just happened to be these guys. It’s still a long series, a four-game set, and we’ve got our work cut out for us tomorrow.”

Braves left-hander Mike Minor faces the Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg in the second game of the series Saturday night.