Nationals beat Braves, earn split of four-game series
Washington got a gift Thursday afternoon in its desperate attempt to stay relevant in the National League East, and, in a rarity of late, they took advantage of that good fortune.
Atlanta starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez, 10-1 in his career against the Nationals, was forced to leave the game after the second inning as a precaution to a left calf contusion.
Washington capitalized, scoring three runs in the next two at-bats against rookie Wes Parsons and adding on later for a 6-3 victory against the Braves. That earned the Nationals a split of the four-game series this week at Nationals Park with Atlanta, and they are now 6-3 this month after going 20-30 in June and July.
It was the second time in the series a Braves starting pitcher was forced to leave after two innings. Max Fried left Tuesday with a left groin strain.
The Nationals (59-56) are now 5 1/2 games back of the first-place Phillies (64-50), who were off Thursday. Third-place Washington is 4 1/2 games behind the second-place Braves (62-50).
Another trend that went in favor of the Nationals: Washington starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez (7-8), who had not won a game since May 28, allowed just one run on six hits in seven innings to pick up his first victory in his last 12 starts.
The veteran lefty has lost six games in a row and went seven innings for just the second time in 11 outings.
Ryan Zimmerman and pinch-hitter Mark Reynolds, a pair of University of Virginia products, had RBI singles in the eighth to make it 6-2 for some key insurance keys.
That came after Justin Miller pitched in the eighth for the Nationals and allowed a homer to Ronald Acuna, Jr. as the Braves trimmed the margin to 4-2.
Daniel Murphy had an RBI double in the sixth to give Washington a 4-1 advantage, as Anthony Rendon slid home face first for the run.
Washington center fielder Michael A. Taylor gave the Nationals a 3-1 lead with a solo homer in the fourth off Parsons (0-1), who was making his big league debut. It was the first homer since June 2 at Atlanta for Taylor, who was only in the lineup due to a shin injury to Bryce Harper.
The Nationals scored two runs in the third off Parsons as Juan Soto walked with the bases loaded to score Gonzalez. Rendon followed with a long sacrifice fly to left to score Adam Eaton for a 2-1 edge.
The Braves took a 1-0 lead in the second as Nick Markakis led off with a homer against Gonzalez, but the veteran settled down after that for a much-needed strong showing.
Harper was scratched from Thursday’s lineup against the Atlanta Braves with a swollen right shin, resulting from Harper’s seventh-inning at-bat Wednesday, in which he was hit by a pitch.
Manager Dave Martinez said Harper, who was included in the original lineup, tried to get loose for the series finale but couldn’t. He couldn’t flex his ankle, either, because of the swelling. Harper underwent an X-ray, but results were negative.
“Rather than him trying to play through it, we thought the best option would be to have him come off the bench if we need him,” Martinez said before the game. “Hopefully throughout the day he can get loose. He’s going to stay in and get treatment.”
The Nationals have won just five series this year against teams with a winning record in games through Wednesday. The last such series win came iMay 10-13 with a four-game sweep at Arizona.
Washington had won its previous two series but has not won three series in a row since May.
Gonzalez had not won since facing Baltimore on May 28. After that game, he was 6-1 with an ERA of 2.10 but be entered Thursday at 6-8 with an ERA of 4.04 this year. The veteran lefty is now 6-11 in his career against the Braves.
Sanchez entered the game 10-1 with an ERA of 2.11 in his career against Washington.
The Nationals begin a series Friday in Chicago against the Cubs. Jeremy Hellickson (5-2, 3.56) will start for Washington against Kyle Hendricks (8-9, 4.07) of the Cubs.
NOTES: The Nationals are 11-18 in one-run games this year ... The game was on Facebook Watch and was not available on Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN).
Andy Kostka contributed to this report.