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Not the start the Nationals were hoping for; 8-5 Braves in “second-half” opener

Atlanta came out swinging and running and took the first game of three in Washington, D.C.; 8-5 Braves over the Nationals.

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Washington Nationals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

If this is a sign of things to come for the Washington Nationals in the second half, it might be a rough ride. Stephen Strasburg got knocked around by the Atlanta Braves (8 H, 6 ER over 4 23 IP) and then got into a heated exchange with rotation-mate Max Scherzer in the home dugout after he was lifted, with the two starters taking it down the tunnel, into the clubhouse, to finish their conversation.

Not exactly return to the rotation for Strasburg, or the start out of the All-Star Break for the Nationals, that everyone was looking for from the back-to-back defending NL East champs, who dropped an 8-5 decision to the Braves in the nation’s capital.

Strasburg vs the Braves: Stephen Strasburg tossed eight scoreless against Atlanta when he faced the Braves in Nationals Park back on April 10th, walking two and striking out eight in a 4-1 win. The second time out against Washington’s NL East rivals, however, the 2009 No. 1 overall pick gave up seven hits and four runs, three earned, in a 6 23-inning outing in which he struck out 10 without allowing a walk in what ended up a 4-0 loss.

“They’re a pretty aggressive team,” Strasburg said after the first of his two starts against the Braves this season, “so I think you try and — I mean, they hit the ball to some guys early and they squared some balls up and got away with it, but I think it’s just stay aggressive and the statistics are normally going to be in your favor.”

His third outing of 2018 against the Braves didn’t start too well. Ronald Acuna, Jr. singled to center field, stole second, and scored on an Ozzie Albies liner to left that got under Juan Soto’s glove for an RBI double and a 1-0 lead. Albies stole third without a throw in the next at bat, then scored on a grounder to third by Freddie Freeman, 2-0. 25-pitch first.

With the score 2-2 in the fourth inning, following a solo shot by Matt Adams, Strasburg gave up back-to-back, one-out doubles by Kurt Suzuki and Johan Camargo that put the Braves on top again, 3-2.

Ronald Acuna, Jr. (2 for 2, BB) doubled to left on a 95 mph first-pitch fastball from Strasburg to start the top of the fifth, took third on a bunt single by Charlie Culberson, and scored on an RBI double by Freddie Freeman, 5-2.

Freeman drove both runners in with a line drive that ended up in the right field corner, and took third base on the throw home trying for Culberson, then scored on a sac fly to center field by Nick Markakis, 6-2.

Stephen Strasburg’s Line: 4.2 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 2 BB, 6 Ks, 98 P, 64 S 5/3 GO/FO.

Sanchez vs the Nationals: Anibal Sanchez gave up two runs (neither of them earned) over seven innings on the mound when he faced the Nationals in SunTrust Park back on June 3rd, walking one and striking out five in a 4-2 win for the Braves.

In seven starts since they last saw him, the veteran right-hander went (3-2) with a 2.88 ERA, 10 walks, 41 Ks, and a .207/.259/.345 line against in 40 23 IP.

Sanchez took the mound with a 2-0 lead tonight, gave up a leadoff walk to Adam Eaton and a one-out single by Bryce Harper, then had the two pull a double steal with Harper swiping second while Eaton got a read and broke for home when Braves’ catcher Kurt Suzuki threw to second base, 2-1.

Matt Wieters doubled, Stephen Strasburg singled, and Adam Eaton walked to loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the second inning, and Sanchez, who threw 31 total pitches in the first, was up to 47 when Trea Turner stepped in and went down looking, and Bryce Harper grounded into a force at second to end the threat.

Matt Adams lined a 2-2 cutter out to right in the third, tying things up with one swing and hitting his 16th home run of the season into the Nationals’ bullpen, 2-2.

It was 6-2 Braves after the top of the fifth, but 6-3 one pitch into the Nationals’ half of the inning after Trea Turner homered to left field for his 12th of 2018, a towering shot.

That was all Sanchez gave up three runs in six innings of work on the mound in Nationals Park...

Anibal Sanchez’s Line: 6.0 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 8 Ks, 2 HRs, 112 P, 73 S, 5/2 GO/FO.

Big City, Big Homer: Matt Adams got the start tonight against right-hander Anibal Sanchez, in spite of the fact that Ryan Zimmerman returned from the DL this afternoon.

“I mean Matt Adams, he’s pretty much killing right-handers right now,” Davey Martinez told reporters, as quoted by MASN’s Byron Kerr, before the game. “He deserves to play.”

Adams, who was 13 for 38 (.342 AVG) with a double, two home runs, three RBIs, four walks and eight runs scored in 11 games since returning from the Disabled List on July 5th, had hit safely in nine of those eleven games, and on the season he had a .294/.372/.594 line and 14 homers against right-handers before he stepped in for his second at bat of the night and hit a 2-2 cutter from Anibal Sanchez out to right field for a game-tying solo home run, his 16th overall in 2018.

BULLPEN ACTION: Justin Miller got the final out of the Braves’ fifth, and Trea Turner hit a solo shot to left off Sanchez to make it a 6-3 game. Miller came back out in the sixth, and retired the first two batters he faced, but Charlie Culberson took him deep on a 1-1 slider, sending a solo shot into the left field bullpen, 7-3.

Matt Grace gave up a leadoff double by Nick Markakis in the top of the seventh, and a one-out walk to Johan Camargo, but Markakis got thrown out at home on a bunt toward third base by Ender Inciarte when Anthony Rendon charged it and scooped a “throw” home to Matt Wieters with his glove to get the out. Grace ended up completing a scoreless top of the inning to keep it a four-run game.

Jesse Biddle retired the Nationals in order in the bottom of the seventh inning, and then the Braves added to their lead in the top of the eighth with Ronald Acuna, Jr. (3 for 4, 2B, HR, BB), hitting a 1-1 slider from Shawn Kelley out to left field for a one-out solo shot that made it 8-3.

Juan Soto made it 8-5 with a two-run shot off Biddle in the bottom of the eighth, hitting his 10th of 2018 out to left-center on a 2-2 fastball.

Brandon Kintzler needed just seven pitches in a 1-2-3 top of the ninth, and A.J. Minter took over in the bottom of the ninth for the Braves and retired the Nationals in order.


Final Score: 8-5 Braves

Nationals now 48-49