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Nationals 9-2 over Braves: Bryce Harper hits two more home runs, 5 HRs in 2 games

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The Nationals trailed 2-1 after 5 ½ in the series opener with the Atlanta Braves in Washington, D.C., but Bryce Harper connected for his fourth HR in the last two games, a 2-run blast to left-center that made it 3-2, then added a 3-run HR in the 8th, 9-2 final.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

5. Can Gio Gonzalez beat the Atlanta Braves?: Sandwiched between scoreless starts at home against the St. Louis Cardinals and on the road vs the New York Mets, was a rough five-inning outing for Gio Gonzalez in Miami, in which the Hialeah, Florida-born lefty gave up ten hits and six runs in a 6-2 loss.

Gonzalez bounced back from that outing with a solid start in Citi Field last time out in which he held the Mets off the board over seven innings in which he gave up six hits and two walks but no runs.

What was working for Gonzalez against Washington's NL East rivals from NY?

"Just throwing the ball where he wanted to from the first pitch," Nationals' manager Matt Williams said after the 1-0 win. "Kept his pitch count down early enough to get him into the later innings and finished strong too. So, 110-ish pitches, it was good."

Gonzalez threw 111 pitches overall, striking out nine and inducing seven ground ball outs from the 27 batters he faced. Two of the hits and one of the walks he allowed came in a 15-pitch, eight-strike first inning, but Gonzalez settled in after that.

"As long as Gio throws the ball where he wants to throw it and gets ahead in counts, then he's really effective. When he gets into trouble, the ball is off the zone and getting behind..." -Matt Williams on Gio Gonzalez after start vs NYM

"He just found his curveball and found his changeup," Williams said. "More curveballs tonight than changeups, but I think he gave up a hit to [Daniel] Murphy on a change, but he found his curveball. When he can do that he's effective, really effective."

"As long as Gio throws the ball where he wants to throw it and gets ahead in counts, then he's really effective," the second-year skipper continued.

"When he gets into trouble, the ball is off the zone and getting behind, he didn't do that tonight."

That outing left the Nats' left-hander (2-2) after five starts, with a 3.86 ERA, 2.93 FIP, 13 walks (3.86 BB/9) and 31 Ks (9.20 K/9) in 30 ⅓ IP over which opposing hitters have a .297/.368/.441 line.

After facing the Phillies, Marlins and Mets already this season, the southpaw was set to make his first start against the Braves tonight in the first game of three with Atlanta in D.C.

Gonzalez was trying to earn a win against the Braves for the first time since July 1, 2012.

Since that win, Gonzalez was (0-7) with a 5.12 ERA (26 ER in 45 ⅔) in eight starts, leaving him (2-8) vs Atlanta in his career with a 5.20 ERA, 36 walks (5.20 BB/0) and 71 Ks (10.25 K/9) in 62 ⅓ IP over which Braves' hitters have a .255/.356/.421 line against him.

Tonight in Nationals Park, Gonzalez had two runners in scoring position early after a one-out HBP on Andrelton Simmons and a double to right-center by Freddie Freeman. Jonny Gomes stepped in next and hit a sac fly to center to bring Simmons in from third and make it 1-0 Atlanta early. A.J. Pierzynski grounded back to the mound to end an 18-pitch frame.

Gonzalez walked second baseman Phil Gosselin with one out in the Braves' second, but Cameron Maybin lined out to a leaping Ryan Zimmerman at first in the next at bat. DP, 3-unassisted. 9-pitch frame, 27 total after two.

Andrelton Simmons took an 0-1 curve to right for a two-out single in the top of the third and scored from first on a double to the right-center gap by Freddie Freeman that made it 2-0 Braves. 26-pitch frame, 53 total after three.

Two groundouts and a swinging K from Cameron Maybin gave Gio Gonzalez a quick, 14-pitch, 1-2-3 fourth. 67 total after four.

Gonzalez got the 9-1-2 hitters in order in the fifth, retiring the side on 10 pitches. 77 total after five. The Braves' 3-4-5 hitters went down in order in the sixth. 12-pitch frame, 10 straight retired, 89 pitches overall after six.

Phil Gosselin doubled to center w/ one down in the Braves' seventh, breaking Gonzalez's streak of 11-straight set down. Cameron Maybin K'd swinging at a diving 1-2 bender for out no.2 and Gonzalez's seventh K. Pinch hitter Pedro Ciriaco worked the count full and K'd swinging at a changeup knee-high outside. 8 Ks. 14-pitch frame, 103 total after seven.

Gio Gonzalez's Line: 7.0 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 8 Ks, 103 P, 67 S, 8/1 GO/FO.

4. Stults in D.C.: In his fourth start of the season, Braves' left-hander Eric Stults held the Nationals to four hits, three walks and two earned runs in 6 ⅓ IP of an 8-4 win two Mondays back in Atlanta, Georgia's Turner Field.

After that start, Stults told reporters that his success was tied to his ability to pound the zone and change speeds.

"'For me, it's just going out and throwing strikes and trying to keep guys off balance,'" Stults told reporters, including MLB.com's Jon Cooper:

"'That's something I've been able to do a little bit better, is keep guys off balance, kind of keep them in-between pitches, whereas the first couple of starts they were jumping on some fastballs because I was maybe throwing a lot more fastballs.'"

He followed that outing up with a seven-inning start against the Cincinnati Reds in which he gave up 11 hits and six earned runs in an 8-4 loss in which he fell to (1-2) on the year with a 4.91 ERA, a 5.07 FIP, seven walks (2.15 BB/9) and 15 Ks (4.60 K/9) in five starts and 29 ⅓ IP, over which opposing hitters have a .277/.319/.509 line against him.

Stults' win over the Nationals left him (2-1) in four career starts vs Washington, in which he had a 4.50 ERA, five walks (2.05 BB/9) and 13 Ks (5.32 K/9) in 22 IP over which Nats' hitters have a .306/.341/.412 line.

His fifth career start vs the Nationals began with a scoreless, 10-pitch, 1-2-3 first.

Ryan Zimmerman singled to right with one down in the bottom of the second, took second on a wild pitch from Stults and third on an opposite field single to right by Wilson Ramos. Ian Desmond stepped in with runners on the corners and one out and K'd swinging at a 2-2 fastball from the Braves' lefty. Danny Espinosa fell behind 0-2 quickly and K'd swinging at a 91 mph heater. 23-pitch frame, 33 total after two.

Given a 2-0 lead to work with, Stults set the Nationals 9-1-and-2 hitters down in order in a five-pitch third that left him at 38 total after three.

Jayson Werth hit one just foul of the left field fair pole in his leadoff at bat in the fourth, but he got all of a 90 mph 1-2 fastball from Stults and hit it out to left for a solo blast that cut the Braves' lead in half, 2-1. Bryce Harper singled in the next at bat, but got caught rounding first on a sneaky throw to first by Andrelton Simmons. Ryan Zimmerman hit a broken-bat single to left in the next at bat, two outs later he was stranded at first. 19-pitch frame, 57 total after four.

A 13-pitch, 1-2-3 fifth left Stults at 70 total after five with six Ks after he got Danny Espinosa and Gio Gonzalez swinging for the first two outs.

Yunel Escobar singled to start the Nats' sixth and one out later Bryce Harper drove him in, hitting a 90 mph 1-2 fastball outside to left-center for a two-run opposite field home run that put the Nationals ahead, 3-2.

15-pitch sixth, for Stults, 85 total after six.

• Eric Stults' Line: 6.0 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 7 Ks, 2 HR, 85 P, 59 S, 5/3 GO/FO.

3. #WalkFreddieFreeman: In 10 games at Nationals Park in 2014, Braves' first baseman Freddie Freeman, 25, was 19 for 40 (.475/.511/.650) with four doubles and a home run leaving him 44 for 136 with nine doubles, two home runs and a .324/.375/.434 line in the nation's capital over the course of his six-year career.

Freeman went 8 for 14 with two doubles in last week's three-game set in Turner Field, leaving him 94 for 279 in his career with 20 doubles, a triple and nine home runs in 76 games and 311 plate appearances for a .337/.386/.513 career line against Atlanta's NL East rivals.

With multi-hit games in seven of the Braves' last 11 games, and a four-game hit streak heading into tonight's game in Nationals Park, Freeman started the series with a .318/.376/.561 line, 11 doubles and five home runs on the year.

Against tonight's starter for the Nats, Gio Gonzalez, Freeman was 7 for 24 (.292/.321/.625) in their respective careers, and he was 8 for 27 with three doubles and a home run for a .296/.345/.519 line vs LHPs in 2015.

• Gio vs Freddie AB no.1: Freeman's first at bat of the night took place in the top of the first, with Andrelton Simmons on first after a HBP on his back foot. Freeman lined a 92 mph 1-1 fastball to right-center for a one-out double that sent Simmons around to third. 1 for 1 vs Gio tonight, 8 for 25 career.

• Gio vs Freddie AB no.2: Runner on first after a two-out single by Andrelton Simmons. Gonzalez started up 0-1 on a called strike on a fastball, but fell behind after missing with two straight curves, 1-2. Freeman fouled off a 93 mph fastball outside, a 92 mph fastball inside, still 1-2, and lined another double to right-center that brought Simmons around, 2-0. 2 for 2 tonight, 9 for 26 vs Gio.

• Gio vs Freddie AB no.3: Freddie Freeman K'd chasing an 0-2 heater up out of the zone for his first out in 3 ABs, 2 for 3 tonight, 9 for 27 career vs Gonzalez.

2. Turning Point(s): A HBP, double and sac fly gave the Braves an early 1-0 lead, but the Nats had a chance to tie things up in the second when Ryan Zimmerman singled, took second on a wild pitch and advance to third with one down on a one-out single to right by Wilson Ramos. Eric Stults buckled down though, and struck Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa out to strand Zimmerman at third and keep it 1-0 Atlanta after two.

Jayson Werth took a 90 mph 1-2 heater from Stults deeeep to left in the first at bat of the Nats' fourth, and Bryce Harper singled to center in the next at bat, but Andrelton Simmons played coy on the throw in, accepting it passively and then spinning quickly and firing a strike to first to catch Harper sleeping and pick him off for the first out of the frame. Ryan Zimmerman singled in the next at bat, but two outs later he was stranded.

TOOTBLAN for Harper and an awkward slide back in on which he luckily avoided any injury.

Harper made up for the baserunning gaffe in the sixth, taking a 1-2 fastball up high outside to left for a two-run opposite field blast that put the Nationals up 3-2 after six. Four homers in the last two games. No.9 of 2015.

Make that five. Harper took debuting Braves' rookie Williams Perez deep for a three-run blast to right field in the eighth to make it 7-2 and Danny Espinosa's second of the game made it 9-2 over Atlanta.

1. The Wrap-Up: Brandon Cunniff took over on the mound for the Braves in the bottom of the seventh and gave up a 1-out home run to left field by Danny Espinosa.

Matt Grace gave up a leadoff single by Nick Markakis in the first at bat of the Braves' eighth, but got a double play grounder out of Andrelton Simmons in the next at bat. Freddie Freeman grounded into the shift to end a nine-pitch frame by the Nationals' lefty.

Braves' right-hander Williams Perez made his MLB debut in the eighth and put the first two runners he faced on in front of Bryce Harper and paid for it. First-pitch fastball, 3-run home run. 7-2 Nationals. 5 HRs in 2 G, 10 total.

Danny Espinosa added a two-run blast off Braves' righty Trevor Cahill to make it 9-2 Nationals after eight innings.

Blake Treinen took the mound in the ninth and threw a scoreless frame. Ballgame.

Nationals now 15-15