Nats score early and often to back Parker's strong start in win (updated)

ATLANTA – The Nationals found the offensive outburst they had been searching for over the weekend. Too often in the games leading up to the Mariners series had strong pitching performances gone to waste due to a shortage of runs scored.

The trick coming into this four-game series against the Braves (oddly, the Nats' first meeting with their National League East rivals this season) was to keep the production at the plate going.

They managed to do just that, scoring early and often against Charlie Morton en route to an 8-4 win over the Braves in front of 38,858 fans at Truist Park.

“I loved it," manager Davey Martinez said after the win, his team's third in their last four games. "We hit the ball really well early on to score some runs. It's a great way to start off, especially with those guys that tend to score some runs. We got off to a good start.”

The Nationals wasted no time jumping on Morton, who entered this start 4-0 with a 2.37 ERA over his last six outings against Washington. The veteran right-hander battled command issues all afternoon and the Nats took advantage.

In his first plate appearance since officially returning from the 10-day injured list earlier today, Lane Thomas lined a double into the left field corner. After an MCL sprain, the outfielder looked good rounding first and sliding into second.

“They've been playing well and just doing something to help the team win. That's all it's about," Thomas said after finishing the day with two doubles and a run scored in the two hole. "So I'm just glad I'm back and able to do that.”

Then Eddie Rosario, who was the 2021 NL Championship Series MVP en route to winning the World Series with the Braves, received a nice ovation from the Atlanta crowd before his first at-bat back at Truist Park since the team decided not to pick up his option at the end of last season. He took off his helmet and patted his heart before hitting an RBI double into the left-center gap to give his new team a 1-0 lead.

Keibert Ruiz drew a walk and Jesse Winker, celebrating his daughter’s birthday, hit an RBI single to make it 2-0. Winker then stole second to put himself into scoring position for Nick Senzel’s two-run double into the left-center gap, giving the Nats a 4-0 lead and the biggest number they’ve posted in the first inning this season.

CJ Abrams then hit his ninth home run of the season and second in as many days in the second inning. The Alpharetta, Ga., native crushed a 95 mph fastball from Morton into the right field seats, with an exit velocity of 102 mph and distance of 367 feet. It would have been a two-run homer if not for Jacob Young getting picked off at first after his leadoff single.

“I was just staying on the fastball the whole AB," Abrams said. "I got one inside. Put a good swing on it. Swinging at strikes the last couple of days and showing it.”

Rosario came all the way around to score after a leadoff walk in the third, advancing to second on Ruiz’s single, stealing third and scoring while the catcher was picked off at first and caught in a rundown.

Back-to-back singles by Winker and Senzel starting the sixth put runners in position to score on Young’s third hit of the game and Abrams’ sacrifice fly to right, which would end Morton’s miserable day.

"We stayed in the middle of the field," Martinez said. "Guys are getting the ball up a little bit. The plan was to try to get the ball up today. We did that. They hit the ball well.”

The Nats tagged Morton for eight runs on 12 hits and two walks in just 5 ⅔ innings. He threw 103 pitches, 71 for strikes before he made way for the bullpen. The Nats set a new season high with 15 hits as everyone in the lineup except Luis García Jr. ended the day with at least one knock.

“I don't think you're ever safe against a team like them," Thomas said. "Even later in the game, we were just chipping away. Some sac flies and just scoring guys from first. I think Winker stealing that bag and getting guys in score position for hits like that is important against a team like the Braves. So it's good.”

On the other side, Mitchell Parker spun another strong start for the visitors. By keeping the Braves off balance throughout his eighth major league start, the lefty looked more like a crafty veteran than an inexperienced rookie.

While mixing in his splitter and slider with his four-seam fastball, Parker shoved for 6 ⅓ innings. He was pitch-efficient, retiring 14 consecutive batters after Ozzie Albies’ leadoff single in the first. He also struck out five in a row between the third and fourth innings.

“A lot of early contact. A lot of ground balls," Parker said. "The fielders were making a lot of plays. A lot of fly balls. I was just keeping the count short, pitch count down. That's all that matters.”

"Strikes. Strikes and attacking the strike zone really well," Martinez said. "Really using his fastball well. Breaking pitches were really good. When he's throwing strikes, he's got a lot of movement on all his pitches and he works really quick. So the guys love playing behind him because he does work really quick and he's very efficient.”

Parker had only allowed two hits going into the seventh, looking to match or surpass his career high of seven frames from April 21 against the Astros. But the Braves finally started to hit him and knocked him from the game after only recording one more out.

Two hits and a groundout scored the first run off Parker. Then Adam Duvall won a nine-pitch battle by hitting a two-run homer off a hanging slider to make it 8-3 and bring Derek Law in from the bullpen.

Law started his outing by walking Michael Harris II, who stole second and came around to score on Orlando Arcia’s single, suddenly cutting the Nats’ eight-run lead in half. But García and Abrams turned a nice double play to get the right-hander out of the jam.

Parker finished with five hits, three runs, no walks and six strikeouts on a season-high 100 pitches, 74 for strikes. It was his third outing without issuing a walk after not allowing a free pass in either of his first two big league starts.

“He pitched really well," Martinez said. "I mean, it was hot out there. Tried to stretch him out a little bit, get through that sixth inning. But like I said, he kept us in the game. That offense is not easy. They swing the bat. So he did well today.”

Although the final score was closer than the Nationals probably expected, their early runs were enough to hold onto the win and not waste yet another strong outing from their starting pitcher.

“At this ballpark, that team there, you got to hit home runs. Because they're not going to quit," Martinez said. "They can score some runs very quickly, like they did. So the fact that we kept pushing, we kept adding and kept playing the game that we are capable of playing, running the bases well, it was awesome. And we ended up scoring eight runs today.”

“It always feels good," Abrams said. "But you can't take the foot off the pedal, especially with these guys. So we got out of here with an 8-4 win and we can move on to tomorrow.”

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