Big eighth inning helps Nationals beat Braves
ATLANTA — Thanks to a meltdown by the Atlanta bullpen, Washington Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez got a rare victory over the Braves Wednesday night.
The Nationals took advantage of four straight walks to score six runs in the eighth inning to get Gonzalez off the hook for a potential hard-luck loss, and Washington defeated the Braves 7-3.
“The key is those pitches weren’t close enough to get tempted to swing,” Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. “They lost command of the strike zone and helped us out there.”
Gonzalez (15-7) allowed just three hits over seven innings, but included were homers by Freddie Freeman and Kurt Suzuki that put Atlanta up 2-1.
Everything fell apart for Braves bullpen, though, and Gonzalez, who was lifted for a pinch hitter in the big eighth inning, was the beneficiary as he beat Atlanta for just the fifth time in 16 career decisions.
Jose Ramirez (2-3) loaded the bases in the eighth on two hits and a walk on four pitches, and then Arodys Vizcaino walked in three runs, twice issuing four-pitch walks.
“It wasn’t like they were just missing, either,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “(The pitches) were shanked, yanked and everything else.”
Adam Lind had a two-run single, and Michael A. Taylor drove in the final run of the inning for the Nationals (92-59) with a single, both off Rex Brothers.
“It’s easy to be patient when they’re not near the strike zone. We capitalized on it,” Baker said. “You’re going to get hits after that. Then they start trying to find the strike zone and invariably it goes down the middle.”
Gonzalez, who has a 2.68 ERA, hadn’t beaten the Braves since September 2015, losing once in 2016 and twice this year, including 8-0 in Washington on Sept. 12.
Gonzalez was 0-3 with a 6.81 ERA over a seven-game winless streak against the Braves, but struck out eight and walked only one this time in a strong outing.
“This time we were attacking the strike zone,” he said. “We were being more aggressive with the fastball in certain counts and using the offspeeds and curveballs when I needed it.”
Trea Turner, batting .408 in his career against the Braves, had a leadoff homer and then a double in the six-run eighth for the Nationals, while Taylor had three singles.
The Braves (67-83) had three solo homers in the game. Jace Peterson connected off reliever Matt Albers in the eighth inning.
Braves rookie Lucas Sims gave up a homer to Turner on the first pitch of the game, but allowed just two hits and no runs over the rest of his five-inning outing.
Sims, who had made four relief appearances after seven starts, was pulled after 74 pitches. He struck out six and walked two, one intentionally.
Turner pulled Sims’ first pitch to start the game into the Nationals’ bullpen for his 10th homer of the season.
“After (the homer), he settled down and went to pitching,” Snitker said. “He didn’t let it affect him. He had a good mix. His curveball was good. His fastball had a little pop on it. I think it was a good experience for him to go to the bullpen.”
Freeman matched Turner’s homer with one in the bottom of the first, picking on a 1-1 changeup and smashing a no-doubt blast over the right field wall for his 28th homer of the year.
Suzuki put the Braves ahead in the fifth. Like Freeman, he wasn’t fooled by a changeup and pulled a 2-2 pitch to left field for his 16th homer of the season.
NOTES: Braves CF Ender Inciarte, 10 hits short of 200, didn’t play due to a sore left thumb after leaving in the fourth inning the previous night. ... 2B Daniel Murphy returned to the Nationals’ lineup after being a late scratch Tuesday because of a tight hamstring. He was 1-for-4 with a double and a bases-loaded walk. ... Nationals RF Bryce Harper, who hurt a knee Aug. 12, took early batting practice on the field after a simulated game Tuesday. “He’s on a crash course to come back as soon as possible,” manager Dusty Baker said. ... Braves 2B Ozzie Albies left the game after being hit on the left leg by a pitch in the eighth inning. ... ... Braves LF Matt Kemp, sidelined by hamstring tightness since last Friday, pitch hit in the ninth and grounded out to end the game. ... RHP Tanner Roark (13-9, 4.43 ERA) will start Thursday’s series finale for the Nationals against RHP R.A. Dickey (9-10, 4.41 ERA) of the Braves. ... Braves C Tyler Flowers, sidelined a week because of a bruised left wrist, is slated to return to catch Dickey.