WASHINGTON -- After taking a no-hitter into the eighth inning Thursday night, Nationals starter Scott Olsen was asked whether he was motivated by getting sent to the minors at the start of the season.
Olsen did not hesitate a bit.
"Yes. Very," he replied. "Very. I'll leave it at that. Very."
The lanky lefty had shoulder surgery in July 2009, became a free agent when he wasn't offered a 2010 contract by Washington in December, was brought back at a discount later, then failed to make the opening day roster. And on Thursday, Olsen retired 22 of the first 23 Atlanta Braves he faced in Washington's 3-2 victory.
He did not give up a hit until David Ross' clean single to left with one out in the eighth.
"I'd be lying if I told you I wasn't thinking about it," Olsen said of the prospect of a no-hitter. "I was thinking about it early. I thought about it in the fourth and fifth inning. But it's one of those things that's hard -- real hard -- to do."
After Olsen departed, pinch-hitter Willie Harris delivered the winning RBI single in the ninth. After reliever Eric O'Flaherty (1-1) walked Adam Kennedy leading off the inning, Peter Moylan came in and gave up a double to Ryan Zimmerman, then intentionally walked Cristian Guzman to load the bases with no outs. Harris then grounded a single past diving second baseman Martin Prado.
The Nationals raced from their dugout to celebrate on the field, mobbing Harris near first base. Tyler Clippard (4-0) got the final five outs.
Afterward, Harris spoke about deriving extra motivation from facing the Braves, a team that did not offer him a contract after the 2007 season -- a snub that still bothers him. He spoke about how Olsen probably is feeding off that sort of thing, too, these days.
"The feeling is: You know what? I'm going to come back, and I'm going to show these guys," Harris said. "It irks you in the pit of your stomach, but what it does is, it gives you a boost, if you know how to handle it. You take it, and you use it. ... Olsen's showing them."
As impressed as the Nationals were with Olsen's outing -- which included eight strikeouts -- the Braves sounded somewhat less blown away.
"He's got pretty good stuff but, let's be honest here: I don't think he's got no-hit stuff," said Atlanta starter Tim Hudson, who went seven innings and allowed five hits, but two were homers by Ivan Rodriguez and Adam Dunn.
Asked about Matt Diaz striking out three times looking, Braves manager Bobby Cox said: "He got called out on some bad pitches."
Cox's club already has been no-hit once this season, by Colorado's Ubaldo Jimenez on April 17. What would have been the reaction if the Braves went another entire game without getting a hit?
"I think if that would have happened," Chipper Jones said, "you probably have to put us all on a suicide watch."
Olsen faced only one batter above the minimum through seven innings. The lone at-bat standing between him and a perfect game at that point was a walk to Melky Cabrera leading off the third.
"Six outs away, you're thinking about it," Rodriguez said.
During spring training, Olsen's velocity was down in the low-80s mph. But the speed of his fastball has been gaining ground, and he was reaching the low 90s on Thursday. That helped his breaking balls be quite effective, and he repeatedly fooled hitters with a slider that moved across the plate perfectly.
Olsen struck out Diaz to begin the eighth. And then everything came apart for the pitcher -- and his club.
First, Olsen lost his no-hit bid when Ross - a backup catcher in the lineup only because starter Brian McCann got a day off while stuck in a 6-for-31 slump -- lined a 1-0 pitch to left field for a no-doubt-about-it single. Then there was an error, and another single, and Olsen was done. Clippard allowed pinch-hitter Jason Heyward's tying, two-run single, setting up Harris' chance to drive in the winning run.Notes
- Heyward was out of the starting lineup because of a sore right groin.
- Riggleman said the team has decided -- but is not yet ready to announce -- who will start Saturday against Florida in place of LHP John Lannan , who is being skipped because of left elbow discomfort.