The Nationals offense rolled out of the gates with five early runs against the first-place Braves on Thursday night at Nats Park, scoring three in the first inning and two in the second frame for a 5-0 lead.
It seemed like the Nats were going to score more after Erlin left when reliever Huascar Ynoa walked three in a row (one intentional). But with two outs, Josh Harrison grounded out to shortstop for a fielder's choice to end the inning.
After that, the Nats scored one more run in the fifth inning. A walk to Soto was followed by a wild pitch. Harrison's single moved Soto to third and he came home on a Yan Gomes sacrifice fly to center field. The Nats' lead was 6-4.
The Nats had an opportunity versus A.J. Minter in the sixth after he allowed two-out walks to Turner and Soto. But Cabrera grounded out to shortstop to end that scoring threat.
In the ninth, Cabrera reached on an infield single with two away against Mark Melancon. Yadiel HernÃ¡ndez made his major league debut as a pinch-runner for Cabrera. But pinch-hitter Brock Holt flew out to center field to end the game.
Outside of the three innings the Nats scored, the only other hit the Nats enjoyed was Cabrera's infield single in the ninth.
"We'd like to do some stuff late, but again, you got guys coming out of the bullpen that have really good stuff and have been really successful this year," Eaton said during his postgame Zoom video session. "There's no excuse, of course. We got to grind this at-bats out. We even give ourselves a chance with Cabby legging out a single in the ninth, but it's kind of how it is going unfortunately."
The Nats ended up falling 7-6 to the Braves, but manager Davey Martinez was not going to rue missed opportunities. He felt five runs early should have been enough to win.
"We missed some (opportunities), but you know what? The boys are swinging the bats well," said Martinez in his postgame Zoom video call. "Cabby's hitting the ball. Still, he lined out a couple of times. You scoring five runs early like that, you should win the ballgame, really. We got to forget about this one, come back tomorrow and do it again. I'll take a five-run lead again and see what happens."
Eaton, Cabrera and Taylor each collected two hits. Turner went 1-for-3 with a run and an RBI. Soto was walked three times and went 1-for-2 with two runs and an RBI.
Eaton liked the way the Nats offense went after Erlin in the first two frames, scoring five runs on six hits right out of the gate. The right fielder had a single and scored in the first and then hit his fourth homer in the second. But Eaton also knows against any team, especially these Braves, five runs likely will not be enough.
"I don't think five runs is ever safe in this league," Eaton said. "I feel like hitters just keep on coming, especially the team that we are facing in the Braves. You'd think they would quit, get in so late at night, but they continued to battle back. They get such timely hits, it hurts my head to think about it. It's crazy. They need a hit, they get it. Same thing there in the eighth with Dansby Swanson. We just got to continue to grind."
Eaton now has four hits, two doubles, a homer, two RBIs and only one strikeout in his last four games. Even though he struggled at the plate the first month of the shortened season, does he feel like this recent trend is a good sign?
"Getting better, getting better," Eaton said. "It's been a heck of a year. People that have followed me throughout my career, I've never been a really fast starter, so just starting to get comfortable in there, starting to see the ball a little bit better and I'm sure I'll feel great Sept. 27 at the plate. It's kind of how it's going."
The Nats had won four of five and jumped out to a 5-0 lead. But then the Braves got to work. Eaton said the Nats want to get back to that good feeling they had to start the week against the Rays.
"I think the last two games with Tampa, I kind of had that feeling," he said. "Not that us beating them came easy by any stretch, but guys got timely hits, pitchers made the pitch when they needed to and beat a really good ball club. Had that same feeling coming into today when we jump on them early, but again cards didn't fall in our direction."