WASHINGTON -- Since impressing during a surprising late-season call to join a pennant race for the final weeks of the 2010, Brandon Beachy has proven to be his harshest critic.
Such was the case again as Beachy talked to reporters after the Braves suffered a 2-0 loss to the Nationals on Saturday afternoon at Nationals Park. His costly fifth-inning mistake resulted in a Jesus Flores solo home run that provided a thoroughly dominant Stephen Strasburg all of the support he needed.
"I've got to win those games, and I'm just not good enough yet," a stone-faced Beachy told reporters while beating himself up at the conclusion of a pitching matchup that he certainly could not have expected to be a part of just three years ago.
After being taken with the top overall selection in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, Strasburg received a $15.1 million contract. One summer earlier, Beachy had gone undrafted before the Braves provided him a $20,000 signing bonus.
But as the two hurlers traded zeros through the first four innings, Beachy held his own and legitimized the fact that he still owns the best ERA in the Majors. Unfortunately, his afternoon was ruined when he elevated a 1-2 fastball that Flores hit over the left-center-field wall to open the bottom of the fifth inning.
"I thought Beachy matched him for pitch to pitch," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "For me, that was the right pitch to Flores, trying to elevate the fastball on him. But we didn't elevate it enough."
Beachy did not share his manager's assessment.
"It wasn't supposed to be elevated or over the plate," Beachy said. "That's what happens when you miss."
Flores' fifth-inning solo shot helped the first-place Nationals remain perfect through the first four games played against the Braves this year. They now sit three games in front of Atlanta in the tightly contested National League East race.
"We got the pitching we needed," Braves second baseman Dan Uggla said. "We just didn't get the offense going."
As he scattered four hits and recorded nine strikeouts in seven innings, Strasburg enjoyed the finest of his four career starts against the Braves. The powerful right-hander showed off his 99-mph fastball while striking out the first three batters he faced, and stayed strong throughout his 90-pitch effort.
Strasburg retired the first eight batters he faced before Jose Constanza laced an opposite-field double to left field with two outs in the third inning. Michael Bourn followed with an opposite-field single to put runners at the corners, but Martin Prado recorded a harmless pop fly to kill the Braves' best scoring threat.
"That's the best I've seen him throw," Braves catcher Brian McCann said. " He basically did anything he wanted today. He was pounding the ball down in the zone and mixing it up. He was putting his curveball where he wanted it. When you throw that hard and you can command it like that, it makes it tough on hitters."
Strasburg mixed his high-octane fastball with a 90-mph changeup, and commanded his curveball much better than he had when he allowed four runs in just five innings against the Braves last weekend.
"It's not always going to be that way, so you've just got to go out there and be in the right frame of mind," Strasburg said. "That was my goal today, to go out there and attack."
Andrelton Simmons, the Braves' flashy young shortstop, faced quite a challenge during his Major League debut. The 22-year-old product of Curacao proved flawless in the field, and ran into some bad luck when his sharp fourth-inning grounder resulted in a double play that followed Jason Heyward's leadoff single.
After McCann opened the seventh inning with a single, Strasburg got Uggla to ground into another momentum-killing double play.
Uggla struck out twice while going hitless in three at-bats against the right-hander. He entered the game with six hits, including two home runs, in eight at-bats against the Washington righty.
"These games happen," Uggla said. "You just battle through it. I had a pitch to hit my third at-bat. I was late on it and grounded into a double play. But that's the way it goes. We couldn't ask more out of Beachy. He went out there and did his thing."
Beachy's Major League-leading ERA jumped to 1.87 after he was charged with two earned runs and three hits in 6 1/3 innings. The 25-year-old right-hander needed 77 pitches to get through the first four innings.
While drawing two walks in his first two plate appearances, Bryce Harper accounted for 19 of the first 61 pitches thrown by Beachy. Flores also got a long look at the Braves' hurler before striking out at the end of a nine-pitch, second inning at-bat.
The Nationals gained an insurance run after Beachy and Chad Durbin issued consecutive one-out walks in the seventh inning. This prompted the entry of Jonny Venters, who was greeted by pinch-hitter Xavier Nady's RBI double off the right-field wall.
"You can't make mistakes in a game like that, and I made far too many of them," Beachy said.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.