Irvin handles Braves again, Harvey bounces back in win (updated)

Looking to snap a four-game losing streak, the Nationals found themselves in a similar situation as they were last night against the Braves: Holding a two-run lead with their starter pitching a shutout.

Last night, it was Mitchell Parker taking a no-hit bid into the sixth. He then gave up a two-run home run to tie the game in the seventh. The Nats would go on to lose 5-2.

Tonight, it was Jake Irvin, who was also taking the mound against the Braves for the second time in a week, dominating the opposing lineup with a two-run lead. And thanks to a bounceback night by Hunter Harvey and Kyle Finnegan's 17th save, he was victorious over Atlanta.

The Nationals beat the Braves 2-1 in front of an announced sellout crowd of 39,175, many of whom are probably sticking around for the Flo Rida postgame concert at Nats Park.

“He was good," manager Davey Martinez said of his starting pitcher. "Another guy to face the Braves this last week. Goes out and pitches really well against them again. That's a tough team, as we all know. They get hit, so what our two starters did these first two games was pretty impressive. It really was. He kept us in a ballgame. We faced a tough pitcher. We just got enough runs. Sometimes just one more than the other guys helps, right? So I'm proud of the guys. They fought all game, we hung and then Finney came in and closed the door.”

Irvin struck out a career-high 10 batters in Atlanta last week thanks in large part to his fastball-curveball mix. He didn’t fan as many tonight, but an effective use of that same two-pitch combo produced similar results.

The young right-hander, who is enjoying a strong start to his sophomore season, completed another six shutout innings against the Braves, allowing just four hits and two walks with four strikeouts on 96 pitches, 64 strikes.

“A lineup like that is a daunting task and those guys are really good over there," Irvin said. "So for me, it's all about competing, just making really good pitches and keeping a high level of focus throughout all those innings. So for me, it's changing speeds today. Me and (catcher Drew Millas) were working hard in between innings, just kind of what the plan was going to be. How we're going to attack these guys and I thought it went pretty well.”

While the strikeout numbers weren’t as flashy, the zero he posted on the scoreboard was more important and impressive, having to pitch out of some jams along the way.

In the third, Braves' No. 9 hitter J.P. Martínez was the first baserunner of the night with a two-out double to left. Michael Harris II and Austin Riley followed with walks, which brought out pitching coach Jim Hickey for a chat. Irvin came back and got Marcell Ozuna to hit a ground ball to CJ Abrams for an easy third out.

Irvin then stranded Orlando Arcia after a leadoff double in the fifth before facing his toughest challenge of the night.

After a leadoff single in the sixth, Ozuna hit what looked to be a routine fly ball to right. However, it kept carrying with the wind, but luckily, not far enough for a two-run homer to tie the game. Instead, it was a double off the wall to put two runners in scoring position with no outs. No matter, because Irvin retired the next three batters with ease to get out of the jam.

“You lock in just a little bit more," Irvin said. "That's one of those situations where you can give in and ruin a quality outing. It's just about competing. Making sure that I do everything I can to keep us ahead in that ballgame. You just have to be a little more precise.”

"He's learned so much in a short period of time how to stay in control in situations like that," Martinez said. "I mean, high-leverage situations don't seem to rattle him that much. They don't seem to bother him. So he knows what he needs to do. And he worked really good.”

The right-hander was visibly pleased with himself as he walked off the field after his 96th pitch knowing his night was done.

What he didn’t know was if a 2-0 lead would be enough for a victory this time.

Abrams led off the fourth with a double off Chris Sale and Nick Senzel followed with a walk two batters later. They pulled off a double-steal (Senzel's first stolen base of the season, meaning every position player that has played a game for the Nationals this season has at least one stolen base) and Abrams came around to score on a throwing error by Braves catcher Sean Murphy for a 1-0 lead. Ildemaro Vargas followed with an RBI single to make it 2-0.

“He's got a lot of good stuff and it's come at a weird angle," Abrams said of facing Sale. "You just got to be aggressive and compete. We fought and we won, so good game.”

The Nats did have a chance to score more against the veteran left-hander. Their best one was with Lane Thomas’ leadoff triple in the sixth. But the next three batters were retired quickly to strand an insurance run 90 feet away from home.

Sale finished the night with two runs, five hits, one walk and 10 strikeouts over seven innings on 102 pitches, 67 strikes.

But the two runs were enough with the way Irvin continued to pitch and the bullpen bounced back.

After being charged with the loss last night, Harvey returned to the mound in the eighth inning tonight to protect a two-run lead. He almost got out of it unscathed, but with two outs, Jacob Young couldn't find Ozuna's fly ball. It landed for a double in center and Matt Olson followed with an RBI single to make it 2-1.

Tensions rose after what happened last night, but Harvey handled them by getting a groundout on the next batter. Finnegan closed out the night with his 17th save.

“I think we made some big pitches when it mattered," Finnegan said. "Harv did a great job of limiting the damage there. Unfortunately, we lose a ball in the lights. That might happen once a year and it happened to happen in a big situation like that. He kept his composure and kept the lead. … I think the difference tonight was we were able to limit that big swing.”

So it was a similar script as Thursday night’s game, but with a much happier ending for the home team on South Capitol Street.

"(Irvin) pumped strikes and he made good pitches when he had to," Martinez said. "Our defense played well, it really did. So it was a good game. A good way to bust out a little funk there. Let's go back and go 1-0 tomorrow.”

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