Surging Nationals welcome sinking Braves for three-game set

MLB

The Washington Nationals’ fortunes have changed significantly since the last time they saw the Atlanta Braves.

After their season-opener was delayed by a COVID-19 outbreak, the Nationals were still missing nine players when they finally got started on April 6 and 7, dropping two of three to the Braves in Washington. Now the Nationals have won four straight and share first place in the tepid National League East as the Braves come to town again for three games beginning Tuesday.

“Our starting pitchers are pitching deeper into games, our bullpen’s been really good and we’re getting timely hitting,” manager Dave Martinez said Sunday. “It’s all coming together. We always talk about how we missed some guys early in the season. Now they’re starting to play together, we’re starting to feel this real good togetherness, this unity. I think it’s starting to click.”

Even though Stephen Strasburg remains on the injured list, the Nationals got strong outings from Jon Lester, Patrick Corbin and Max Scherzer in a weekend sweep of the Marlins. Lester threw five scoreless innings in his Nationals debut, Corbin allowed two runs in seven innings, and Scherzer capped the weekend with a complete-game five-hitter in a 3-1 win on Sunday.

Scherzer promptly left to be with his wife for the birth of their third child, and Monday morning posted pictures of baby Derek Alexander.

“For him to go a complete game and pitch the way that he did, then go over and have a baby with his wife, that’s a pretty cool day,” said Ryan Zimmerman, whose three-run homer in the third inning provided Scherzer with all the run support he needed.

Washington is tied for the National League lead in hitting (.253) and is seventh in on-base percentage (.319).

No. 2 hitter Josh Harrison has reached base safely in 15 of 17 games, hitting .361 with a .451 on-base percentage. Zimmerman is hitting .319 with four homers and 10 RBIs in limited action after sitting out 2020, and is helping to compensate while regular first baseman Josh Bell (.140) finds his way.

“He’s been great,” Martinez said of the 36-year-old Zimmerman. “He understands his role. When he gets an opportunity to play, he’s playing really well.”

The Nationals could get a boost within the next few days as outfielder Juan Soto nears his return from the injured list, where he has been since April 20 with a left shoulder strain.

Right-hander Joe Ross (2-1, 4.64) makes his first start against the Braves since 2019. In his last start, April 24 against the Mets, he threw six innings of one-run ball.

Atlanta brings a four-game losing streak into Washington. The Braves are hitting .238 as a team (ninth in the NL), but their pitchers are sporting an MLB-worst 5.06 ERA and had allowed 42 home runs, also worst in the majors.

Ian Anderson allowed four runs in four innings on Sunday as the Blue Jays completed a three-game sweep with a 7-2 win, leaving the Braves four-games under .500 after being outscored 26-12 over the weekend.

“This is some kind of grind that we’ve been going through for the last five weeks, since we started the season,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “There’s nothing to do but just continue to grind through it. The good thing is, we’re not where we want to be, but nobody’s running away with this division and we’re right there.”

Beyond the games, the Braves also lost catcher and cleanup hitter Travis d’Arnaud to a torn ligament in his thumb Saturday. He’s slated for surgery this week and was placed on the 60-day injured list.

The Braves haven’t named a starter for Tuesday, but the likely catcher is 23-year-old William Contreras, who they recalled Sunday morning. Contreras, younger brother of the Chicago Cubs all-star catcher Willson Contreras delivered an RBI single in his first at-bat of the season on Sunday.

“He’s going to get some very valuable on-the-job training,” Snitker said. “He’s matured a lot, and I thought he did a good job of handling stuff today — it was a rough ride for him. But they say he’s a kid with skills and tools, and we’re just gonna have to be patient with him and work with him, because he’s going to have to do the bulk of the catching now.”

–Field Level Media

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