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Washington Nationals drop seventh straight, 5-4 Atlanta Braves in series opener in D.C.

Aníbal Sánchez returned. Juan Soto extended some streaks. But the Nationals dropped their seventh in a row.

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Washington Nationals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Guess Who’s Back?:

“He’s excited about it, he really is, and I’m excited for him,” Davey Martinez told reporters, as quoted by’s Jessica Camerato, when the Nationals’ manager announced 38-year-old, 15-year veteran, Aníbal Sánchez would make his 2022 debut tonight and get started on his 16th season in the majors.

“He put himself through a lot to get back,” Martinez added of the work Sánchez did to get built up again after a cervical nerve impingement in his neck shut him down between the end of the club’s Spring Training schedule and Opening Day and kept him off the mound for weeks this spring.

“He did everything he needed to do to get back, and I’m looking forward to getting him out there and watching him pitch again,” Martinez said. “He was a big part of ‘19 for us.”

Three years removed from 2019, however, and after a year off in 2021 when he chose not to pitch, what does Sánchez have left?

It didn’t start well for the Nats’ veteran, who walked the first batter he faced, Ronald Acuña, Jr., then had Acuña, Jr. steal second base, and take third on a throwing error by Nationals’ catcher Keibert Ruiz, before Sánchez gave up a two-run homer to left to the second hitter he faced, Dansby Swanson, who hit a no-doubter on a 2-2 changeup over the middle of the plate, 2-0 Atlanta.

After he’d set the Braves down in order in the fourth, Sánchez was up to seven outs in a row, and 11 of the last 12 retired after the home run by Swanson in the first.

Travis d’Arnaud and Marcell Ozuna hit back-to-back singles off Sánchez to start the top of the fifth, as movement started in the Nationals’ bullpen, but the Nats’ starter got two outs when Robinson Canó grounded into a 6-3 DP, and he got to two strikes on Michael Harris II, but a 10-pitch at-bat ended in a two-run home run to right field, a 410-foot shot which put the Braves on top, 4-2 after four and a half.

Aníbal Sánchez’s Line: 5.0 IP, 4 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 5 Ks, 2 HRs, 90 P, 52 S, 3/3 GO/FO.

Wright in Washington:

Kyle Wright, 26, and a 2017 1st Round pick by Atlanta, 5th overall, held Washington’s hitters to three runs on eight hits and two walks in seven innings of work for the Braves while their NL East rivals were in Truist Park last week, and tonight in Nationals Park, he was facing the Nats again, on the road, where he was (3-2) in six starts with a 2.75 ERA and a .243/.313/.346 line against in 36 IP, versus his 3.09 ERA and .220/.294/.315 line against in 67 IP at home.

Wright took the mound with a 2-0 lead courtesy of a 2-run shot by Dansby Swanson in the top of the first, but one out into the bottom of the inning it was a one-run game after Josh Bell hit a 3-2 curve 431 feet to right for a solo shot which landed in the upper deck, 2-1. No. 13 for Bell in 2022.

Yadiel Hernández, Keibert Ruiz, and César Hernández hit back-to-back-to-back singles in the bottom of the second, and a Maikel Franco groundout brought in the tying run, 2-2, but that was all the Nationals got out of an early opportunity, as Lane Thomas popped out to first for out No. 2, before Luis García grounded out to end the bottom of the second.

With the score 4-2 in the Braves’ favor in the fifth, Luis García, Josh Bell, and Juan Soto hit back-to-back-to-back, one-out singles off Wright, but García got thrown out at home on a strong throw in from center by Michael Harris II, for the second out of the inning, and then Nelson Cruz grounded out to third to end the threat.

Wright retired the Nationals in order in an 11-pitch sixth, which left him at 92 pitches, and he returned to the mound in the bottom of the seventh, and retired the side in order again, and struck out two in an 11-pitch inning.

Kyle Wright’s Line: 7.0 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 4 Ks, 1 HR, 103 P, 74 S, 11/3 GO/FO.

Soto’s Streaks:

Juan Soto, 23, started the night with a a career-high 15-game hit-streak going, over which he was 20 for 50 (.400 AVG) with four doubles, five home runs, 16 walks, and 16 runs over that stretch, and he also had a 22-game on-base streak going, with a .511 OBP in his last 22 games. Which, yeah. You might have noticed a lot of “Soto is heating up tweets” today.

He extended both streaks with a single in the fifth inning. 16-game hit streak. 23-game on-base streak. Stay hot, Juan. He doubled for his second hit in the eighth, and scored on a single by Nelson Cruz.

Bullpen Action:

Andres Machado took over in the sixth, and gave up a one-out solo shot by Matt Olson, who hit a 96 MPH 1-0 fastball 368 feet to right to make it 5-2 Braves.

Hunter Harvey set the Braves down in order in a 10-pitch top of the seventh.

Tyler Clippard returned to the mound in Nationals Park in the eighth, and retired the side in order in a 10-pitch frame.

A.J. Minter gave up a one-out double by Juan Soto, who scored on an RBI single by Nelson Cruz, 5-3, but that was all the Nationals got in the eighth.

Clippard came back out and worked around a one-out hit for a second scoreless frame.

Kenley Jansen came on for the save situation and gave up a one-out home run by Maikel Franco, 5-4. Franco hit a 1-0 cutter out.

Luis García singled with two out to keep hope alive. Josh Bell stepped in next. García’s pinch runner, Victor Robles, stole second base. Bell got up 3-1, took a strike, 3-2, then K’d swinging at a 94 MPH sinker to end it. Final score: 5-4 Braves.

Nationals now 30-61