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Braves 7-6 over Nationals in Turner Field: Stephen Strasburg hit hard in series opener

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The Washington Nationals entered this weekend's three-game set with the Atlanta Braves 3-7 against their NL East rivals so far this season and 0-3 in Turner Field. The Nats battled back from a 7-0 deficit, but fell a run short. 7-6 Braves in ATL.

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Chipper Jones Hearts Rendon Top 5:

5. Quick Recap: Stephen Strasburg retired the first two batters he faced tonight in relatively quick fashion, but a two-out walk to Freddie Freeman brought Justin Upton to the plate with a runner on and the Atlanta Braves' slugger made the Washington Nationals' starter pay for the walk with a two-out, two-run home run to straight center in Turner Field that gave the home team a 2-0 lead early in the series opener.

Justin's brother B.J. made it a 4-0 lead with another two-out, two-run home run in the second, taking a 1-1 curve out to left for his 8th HR of the year and Freddie Freeman hit the third two-run home run three at bats later, taking a 95 mph belt-high heater out to right for a 6-0 lead.

Tommy La Stella crushed a 94 mph 2-1 fastball in the fifth, sending his first major league home run out to right in Turner Field. 7-0 Braves.

The Nationals broke up Ervin Santana's bid for a shutout in the sixth with Asdrubal Cabrera driving in a run with an RBI single and Anthony Rendon driving in three with a three-run home run to the left of center in Turner Field. HR no.15 of 2014 for Rendon. 7-4 Braves.

After an hour-plus rain delay, play resumed in Atlanta, and after a scoreless sixth inning by Ross Detwiler, Nationals' catcher Wilson Ramos cut into the Braves' lead with a massive blast to left field off Braves' right-hander Anthony Varvaro that made it a 7-5 game. Kevin Frandsen reached on an error, took third on a single by Denard Span and scored on a sac fly by Asdrubal Cabrera to make it a 7-6 game.

That's as close as the Nationals got. 7-6 Braves final.

4. Strasburg in Turner Field: Stephen Strasburg has been up and down in his four second-half starts. In the first two outings after the Break, the Nationals' 26-year-old right-hander gave up 16 hits and eight earned runs in 12 ⅓ IP (5.84 ERA) in back-to-back losses to the Brewers, at home, and Rockies, on the road, in which opposing hitters put up a .327/.377/.571 line against him, but he followed those starts up with strong outings against both the Marlins, in Miami, and Phillies, in D.C., in which he gave up seven hits and one earned run in 14 IP (0.64 ERA) in which he held opposing hitters to a .152/.204/.217 line.

"Stephen is the guy we went to the first day of the season. He's the guy we went to after the break and he's proven why he's a really good pitcher. The last two outings have been really, really good." -Matt Williams on Stephen Strasburg last week in D.C.

Following the loss to the Marlins, in a start in which he allowed just one run in seven innings, Strasburg was left (1-7) in 11 road starts this season, with a 4.68 ERA, a 3.46 FIP, 19 walks (2.62 BB//9) and 65 Ks (8.95 K/9) in 65 ⅓ IP over which opposing hitters have put up a .282/.338/.451 line against him as opposed to his (7-2) record, 2.41 ERA, 2.18 FIP, 14 walks (1.47 BB/9), 112 Ks (11.72 K/9) and .233/.272/.340 line against in 13 starts and 86 IP at home in 2014.

Nats' skipper Matt Williams was asked last week if there was any explanation for Strasburg's struggles away from the nation's capital this season.

"I don't think there's any reason for it," Williams responded.

"Certainly comfort level here. He knows the mound every time he goes out. He knows the bullpen, he knows his routine. There's no reason why. I just think that's the way it's happened."

Williams was clear, however, that he still considered Strasburg the Nationals' top starter, rotation leader, no.1 arm, or whatever other label you'd like to use.

"Stephen is the guy we went to the first day of the season," Williams said. "He's the guy we went to after the break and he's proven why he's a really good pitcher. The last two outings have been really, really good."

Tonight in Atlanta, Georgia's Turner Field, Strasburg was pitching in a park he's struggled in over the course of his career.

In six starts before tonight's, the right-hander was (1-2) with a 5.79 ERA, 16 walks (6.17 BB/9) and 28 Ks (10.80 K/9) in 23 ⅓ IP in which Braves' hitters have put up a .289/.402/.446 line against the Nationals' '09 no.1 overall pick.

Against Atlanta overall, heading into the series opener in the Braves' home, Strasburg was (3-5) in 14 starts with a 4.04 ERA, 25 walks (3.26 BB/9) and 85 Ks (11.09 K/9) in 69 IP in which the Nats' NL East rivals put up a combined .270/.333/.382 line against him.

The 15th start of Strasburg's career against the Braves and 25th start of his fifth MLB season began with a backwards K.

1st: B.J. Upton fell behind 0-2 quickly, fouled one off, but K'd looking at a 96 mph fastball low and away. Tommy La Stella grounded weakly to second. Freddie Freeman stepped in with two out, worked the count full and walked. Strasburg dropped a first-pitch curve in under Justin Upton's hands, but the Braves' left fielder got hold of an 0-1 fastball and hit a two-run blast to straight-center in Turner Field. 2-0 Atlanta. Jason Heyward took the second two-out walk of the inning. Evan Gattis stepped in with a runner on and then in scoring position when Strasburg threw a pick attempt by first, but Heyward was stranded at second when Evan Gattis K'd looking to end a 24-pitch frame.

2nd: Chris Johnson grounded out to short to start the Braves' second, but Ramiro Pena sent a soft line drive out to left for a one-out hit. Ervin Santana bunted into a force at second, but it didn't matter, because B.J. Upton hit a two-run blast to left on a 1-1 curve inside to bring his pitcher in the easy way. Tommy La Stella lined a two-out single to left center to keep the Braves' second going long enough for Freddie Freeman to come through with the third two-run home run. 6-0 Braves. Justin Upton K'd swinging to end the 21-pitch frame. 45 total after two.

3rd: Jason Heyward battled for nine pitches before taking a 3-2 change for a called strike three. Evan Gattis K'd swinging through a 2-2 fastball. Chris Johnson's groundout to second ended a quick, 17-pitch, 1-2-3 third that left Strasburg at 62 total.

4th: Ramiro Pena K'd swinging at a 1-2 curve. An 0-2 curve got Ervin Santana swinging. B.J. Upton stepped in with two down and sent a fly ball to Denard Span in right-center to end a 12-pitch, 1-2-3 inning. 74 total after four.

5th: Tommy La Stella led the Braves' fifth off with a solo home run to right, his first major league blast. Asdrubal Cabrera threw Freddie Freeman out on a sharp grounder to second. Justin Upton K'd swinging at a 1-2 change, but Jayson Heyward kept the inning alive with a line drive double to center field. Evan Gattis K'd swinging at a 1-2 change to end a 15-pitch frame. 89 total for Strasburg after five.

Stephen Strasburg's Line: 5.0 IP, 7 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 2 BB, 9 Ks, 4 HR, 89 P, 62 S, 5/1 GO/FO.

3. Santana vs the Nationals: Ervin Santana, 31, who signed a 1-year/$14.1M free agent deal with the Braves this past March, made his first start for Atlanta against the Washington Nationals back on June 22nd in the nation's capital, giving up six hits and three earned runs in six innings of work in which he walked one batter and struck out nine in a 4-1 loss.

That start was his fifth against Washington in his career, and the loss his first (0-1).

Against the Nationals overall, the veteran right-hander had a 3.82 ERA after that outing with 11 walks (3.00 BB/9) and 36 Ks (9.81 K/9) in 33 IP, over which Nats' hitters hitters put up a .246/.311/.418 line against him.

His second start of the season against the Nationals was in this weekend's series opener in Turner Field where the righty was (7-2) in 10 starts before tonight's with a 3.29 ERA, a 2.99 FIP, 19 walks (2.50 BB/9) and 61 Ks (8.03 K/9) in 68 ⅓ IP over which he'd held visiting hitters to a combined .244/.300/.351 line.

In his four second-half starts before tonight, Santana was (3-0) with the Braves 3-1 in his outings, in which he put up a 1.93 ERA, a 2.42 FIP, 10 walks (3.21 BB/9) and 28 Ks (9.00 K/9) in 28 IP in which he's held opposing hitters to a .226/.310/.250 line.

Santana retired the Nationals in order in an 11-pitch first in his second start of the year vs Washington. The first six batters were set down after another 11-pitch frame in the second. A 10-pitch, 1-2-3 third gave him three perfect innings on 32 pitches.

Denard Span connected for the first hit off Santana in the first at bat of the fourth, lining a single to right to extend his personal on-base streak to 34-straight. Asdrubal Cabrera walked to put two on with no one out, but Anthony Rendon popped to short right, Adam LaRoche K'd swinging over a 1-2 slider and Ian Desmond lined out to right to strand both runners. 6-0 Braves after three and a half. 21-pitch frame, 53 total.

Bryce Harper walked to start the fifth, but was doubled up when Wilson Ramos grounded to third to start a 5-4-3 DP in the next at bat. Kevin Frandsen lined out to right to end a quick, 7-pitch, 1-2-3 frame. 60 total for Santana after five.

The Nationals rallied in the sixth, with Scott Hairston getting hit in a pinch hit appearance and scoring on the second of two consecutive singles by Denard Span and Asdrubal Cabrera. 7-1 Braves. Anthony Rendon stepped in next and sent his 15th home run of the year out to left-center to make it a 7-4 game. Three outs followed to leave Santana at 82 pitches overall after a 22-pitch frame.

Rain ended Santana's outing there...

• Ervin Santana's Line: 6.0 IP, 4 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 4 Ks, 1 HR, 82 P, 54 S, 4/5 GO/FO.

2. Turning Point(s): Stephen Strasburg's two-out walk to Freddie Freeman in the bottom of the first inning tonight was followed by a two-run home run to center on an 0-1 fastball to Justin Upton. A 1-1 curve inside to B.J. Upton ended up in the left field seats and the third two-run blast in the first two innings made it 6-0 Braves.

• 1. The Wrap-Up: After an hour and eleven-minute rain delay, the Nationals and Braves came back out at around 10:35 PM with Ross Detwiler on the mound. Detwiler gave up a two-out single to right by pinch hitter Phil Gosselin.

The Nationals cut into the lead again with a solo home run to left in the Nationals' seventh, taking an 0-1 fastball to left that made it 7-5 Braves. Kevin Frandsen reached on an error, went first-to-third™ on a single to left by Denard Span and scored on a sac fly by Asdrubal Cabrera to make it 7-6 with two out in the seventh in Turner Field.

Jordan Walden took over on the mound for Varvaro with Anthony Rendon at the plate and lined out to center to end the Nationals' seventh.

Ross Detwiler gave up a two-out walk to Justin Upton in the bottom of the seventh, but Jason Heyward grounded out to second to end the frame.

Walden came back out for another inning of work in the eighth retired the Nationals in order. 7-6 after seven and a half.

Tyler Clippard came out for the Braves' eighth and gave up a two-out single to center by Ramiro Pena, but nothing else.

Craig Kimbrel came out for the ninth looking for save no. 33 of 2014 and retired the Nationals in order. 7-6 Braves.

Nationals now 62-52