Harper hits 3-run HR as Nationals stay hot, beat Braves 8-1
ATLANTA (AP) — Pitchers are having a hard time keeping Bryce Harper off the bases — and inside the park.
Harper’s hot start is a big reason the Washington Nationals are unbeaten.
The star slugger hit a three-run homer and the quick-scoring Nationals beat the Atlanta Braves 8-1 on Monday night for the first 4-0 start to a season in their Washington history.
Harper’s second-inning shot off Sean Newcomb (0-1) to center field gave the Nationals a 5-0 lead. He also drew four walks and scored three runs.
Harper has three homers — including two in his last two at-bats during Sunday’s 6-5 win at Cincinnati — and seven RBIs. He reached in eight consecutive plate appearances, two shy of the Nationals record, before grounding out in the ninth.
Harper said he wasn’t far off a chance to homer in four straight at-bats.
“I got a pitch I could absolutely drive and just topped it a little bit,” he said.
First-year manager Dave Martinez wasn’t about to complain.
“He’s good. He’s one of the best,” Martinez said. “I’m glad I get to watch him play every day and hopefully he continues doing what he’s doing.”
Howie Kendrick’s double to right field drove in Harper, who walked, in Washington’s two-run first inning.
It marked the fourth straight game as the road team the Nationals scored in the first inning to give their starting pitcher a lead before his first pitch.
This time, the beneficiary was Tanner Roark (1-0), who allowed one run in seven innings. Backed by strong defense, including on third baseman Anthony Rendon’s diving stop of Dansby Swanson’s grounder in the seventh, Roark gave up four hits with one walk and six strikeouts.
The Nationals stretched the lead in the second.
After Newcomb gave up singles to Pedro Severino and Anthony Rendon, Harper walked to the plate as stadium organist Matthew Kaminski played the somber “Imperial March.” Braves fans chimed in with boos.
Harper crushed a first-pitch fastball .
“I was trying to come in more,” Newcomb said, adding the pitch instead “was middle and low where he swings.”
The homer landed in the decorative rocks behind the 400-foot marker on the center-field wall.
Newcomb allowed six runs, five earned, on five hits and four walks in 4 1/3 innings.
Freddie Freeman’s single drove in Ender Inciarte, who singled and stole second, in the fourth.
Nationals pinch-hitter Brian Goodwin had a two-run single off Jose Ramirez in the ninth.
Nationals: C Matt Wieters was placed on the 10-day DL with a mild left oblique strain to address what is believed to be a short-term injury “rather than it becomes a big issue,” according to Martinez. He plans to “mix and match” backups Miguel Montero and Severino, who was recalled from Triple-A Syracuse before the game. ... 2B Daniel Murphy, on the DL following right knee surgery, was cleared for the first time to run in the outfield before the game.
Braves: The addition of C Carlos Perez allows manager Brian Snitker to be cautious with C Kurt Suzuki, still recovering from a bruised right hand. With Tyler Flowers (left oblique strain) expected to miss a few weeks, Perez will play behind Chris Stewart, who made his second straight start. ... LHP Luiz Gohara (left ankle sprain) threw two innings in a simulated game and had no problems with the ankle, according to Snitker.
Before the franchise moved to Washington in 2005, the Montreal Expos started 5-0 in 1972 and 4-0 in 1983.
MLS Atlanta United’s Josef Martinez, wearing an Inciarte jersey, threw a strike to the Gold Glove outfielder for the ceremonial first pitch. Inciarte and Martinez are from Venezuela.
Braves starting pitchers have failed to complete six innings in all four games and have a 5.66 ERA after allowing 13 earned runs in 20 2/3 innings.
Braves right-hander Anibal Sanchez, whose contract was purchased from Triple-A Gwinnett before the game, pitched three scoreless innings in relief to strengthen his bid for a spot in the rotation.
“I thought he was real good,” Snitker said. “He mixed pitches well, moved the ball around. He knows what he’s doing.”
Nationals: RHP A.J. Cole, who made his major league debut at Turner Field in a 13-12 win on April 28, 2015, will make his 2018 debut on Tuesday night.
Braves: RHP Julio Teheran was 3-1 with a 3.24 ERA in four starts against the Nationals in 2017. He allowed four runs in 5 2/3 innings against Philadelphia and did not receive a decision in his first start this season.
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