Gio Gonzalez hadn't pitched since sometime during the Johnson administration. It didn't matter.
It's the Nationals' 12th straight win over the Braves in D.C. after they went 10-0 against Atlanta at home last season. The loss was the Braves' 16th in their last 17 games in the nation's capital.
Harper won the game with a two-run double in the eighth inning, but it was Gonzalez that turned in the performance of the evening. The veteran lefty was skipped the first time through the rotation because manager Dusty Baker wants to slot him between Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. But a 16-day layoff didn't seem to bother Gonzalez.
He went six innings and allowed just three hits and a walk, striking out four in the shutout performance. He threw 95 pitches, 61 for strikes and after a bit of a shaky first and second innings, really settled in and turned in a terrific appearance.
Trouble was, Braves starter Jhoulys Chacin was just as sharp, limiting the Nats (5-1) to five hits over six innings, striking out eight.
It was scoreless to the bottom of the eighth. With one down, Stephen Drew, who'd entered the game earlier on a double-switch, singled to left off reliever Jim Johnson. Michael Taylor grounded out and Drew moved up, then Anthony Rendon drew a base on balls.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez called upon lefty Eric O'Flaherty to face Harper, but Harper simply deposited the first pitch he saw from O'Flaherty into medium-deep left field. Jeff Francoeur made a diving attempt, but it landed safety and bounced away from the left fielder, allowing both runs to score.
But nothing is easy.
In the ninth, Blake Treinen got Erick Aybar and Tyler Flowers swinging, but walked Gordon Beckham. Felipe Rivero then allowed a double to Kelly Johnson, which scored Beckham, putting everyone on the edge of their seats.
After a visit to the mound, Rivero settled and struck out rookie Mallex Smith on a checked swing to end it.
W: Blake Treinen (2-0) L: Jim Johnson (0-2) SV: Felipe Rivero (1)
NEXT GAME: The Nats host the Braves on Wednesday at 7:05. Stephen Strasburg (1-0, 1.50) takes on Matt Wisler (0-0, 5.40).
Nationals now 5-1
• After they play six games early this season (two more to follow in Nats Park after tonight) the Nationals and Braves won't play each other again until Aug. 12.
• The 12 straight wins over an opponent in their home park extends the franchise record (2005-present) and the second-longest in Nationals/Expos history, behind only a 14-game win streak Montreal put together against the San Diego Padres between May 1993 and May 1995.
• Gio Gonzalez was coming off a 16-day layoff between his final Grapefruit League start on March 27th and his 2016 debut.
• All four of the Nationals' wins before tonight were comeback wins.
• Last night's four-hit night for Wilson Ramos was the third four-hit game of the Nationals' catcher's career with the other two in 2013 against the Phillies and 2010 against Cleveland when he was still a Minnesota Twin. Ramos got the night off in the second game of four with the Braves, as planned beforehand, with Jose Lobaton behind the plate for Gio Gonzalez's 2016 debut.
• Heading into tonight's game, Daniel Murphy had reached base safely in 13 of 22 plate appearances this season. Murphy went 2 of 3 on the night to make it 15 of 25.
• The Nationals' three steals in the first inning last night tied a team record (2005-present) for steals in an inning.
• In today's Nationals-themed Fun With Arbitrary End Points segment: The Nats were 24-9 against the Braves before tonight, going back to June 21, 2014.
• Braves' 3B Adonis Garcia turned 31 today. Dusty Baker praised the infielder before today's game while talking about attacking Nats-killer Freddie Freeman in the Braves' lineup::
"[Freeman's] patience is being tested this year," Baker said. "But I tell you he has a young guy hitting behind him in [Adonis] Garcia that will make you pay.
"I think this guy has a pretty good idea too. And he's a pretty good hitter. I was trying to figure out, when the season started, 'Why was he hitting such a young guy behind Freddie?' And this guy can take you to right-center and then he'll take you out of the ballpark. He'll hit you up the middle. He doesn't say much, but you can tell that he has a pretty good idea."
• Jhoulys Chacin was recalled from Triple-A Gwinnett to make tonight's start and ended up striking out eight in six scoreless frames over which he threw just 69 pitches, allowing five hits.
• Shawn Kelley worked around a two-out double by Gordon Beckham, striking out two in a 12-pitch frame.