Nats stick to winning formula to win series against Braves (updated)

ATLANTA – The Nationals won two of the first three games against the Braves with some big hits and great pitching. They haven’t always gotten home runs, but they got one from CJ Abrams on Monday and one from Lane Thomas on Wednesday. They haven’t always seen their starter go deep in the game, but Mitchell Parker, Jake Irvin and MacKenzie Gore combined for 17 ⅔ innings.

With a chance to win the four-game series, the Nationals went back to the recipe for success that has helped them win most of their games thus far this season. And it was some good cooking that resulted in a 3-1 victory in front of 37,784 fans, who also watched the Nats win the set.

As it has for the past week, it started on the mound. The Nationals stuck to their plan that has proven to be very successful with Trevor Williams, who completed 5 ⅔ innings of one-run ball with four hits, two walks and two strikeouts on 95 pitches, 56 strikes.

“Going into the fourth game of a series, you get a good feel for what the lineup is going to do," Williams said after the game. "And all the guys the last three days gave tremendous outings. So for them to do what they did, we were able to execute our game plan for the most part. It was a well-fought win for us. Thankful for the guys behind me that they were able to make some plays and we were able to execute some pitches and get us out of some jams.”

The only run scored on him came in the third when Jarred Kelenic hit a triple to left that Eddie Rosario missed while sliding, and then Michael Harris II scored him with a sacrifice fly on the first pitch.

Other than that, it was another typical start for Williams this season: limit home runs and walks and top out between the fifth and sixth inning, around 90 pitches. He did not, however, reach the strikeout totals his teammates posted this week.

“When guys went 10 strikeouts yesterday and 10 strikeouts the day before, you want to try and do that. But I'm not a strikeout guy," Williams said with a laugh. "I tried and we didn't do our best. But they're throwing the ball well and every night the starter wants to go out there and try and one up each other. I'm just proud of the rotation that we're able to go out there every day and give the team a chance to win and turn it over to our bullpen, who had been so shut down for us. It's been great.”

Williams has now not suffered a loss through his first 11 starts of the season. Stephen Strasburg is the only other Nats starter (2005-present) to make it through his first 10 starts of the season without taking a loss (8-0 in 2016).

Williams is now 3-0 with a 1.76 ERA (eight earned runs in 41 innings) over his last eight games. He has allowed one or zero earned runs in seven of the eight. And he is 5-0 with a 2.29 ERA on the year.

Nationals starters pitched to a 1.93 ERA (five earned runs in 23 ⅓ innings) with 30 strikeouts and just four walks in this series. They have pitched to a 2.27 ERA (12 earned runs in 47 ⅔ innings) with 56 strikeouts and just seven walks over the last eight games.

“He's been really good. He's keeping us in the ballgames," manager Davey Martinez said of Williams. "He's been pitching lights out for us, so it's great to see. Like I said before, he made some adjustments (in the offseason). It's working. His pitches are really crisp. He comes in, the bullpen comes in and shuts the door down. It's been awesome."

And let’s also give credit to the bullpen: Dylan Floro, Robert Garcia, Hunter Harvey and Kyle Finnegan (who earned his 15th save) combined to pitch 3 ⅓ shutout innings, allowing only two baserunners and striking out four. The bullpen as a whole has only allowed three runs to score all series.

“I think everybody's just kind of stepping up," Harvey said. "We have a couple of set roles, but it's really when you go out on the mound, we're getting guys out. It doesn't matter what inning it is, it doesn't matter what the score is. Just go out there and do your job.”

Then the offense reverted to their small ball ways to back another strong start by Williams. Facing left-hander Ray Kerr (not old friend Reynaldo López as had been originally scheduled), the Nationals scored three runs in the top of the third.

“It's our identity," Martinez said. "We're gonna try to push the envelope a little bit. We're gonna try to get guys on third base with less than two outs as much as possible and with guys in scoring position. These guys, they run smart.”

Jacob Young got on base via hit-by-pitch (his second in as many days, although this one was a lot less scary than last night’s since it hit off his back foot). He moved to second on a wild pitch by Kerr, who was making just his second major league start, and then stole third base. Lane Thomas drew a walk and swiped second to put two runners in scoring position.

Joey Meneses got jammed inside, but kept the ball just fair down the first base line for a two-run double. And then Jesse Winker hit an RBI double himself, just barely missing a two-run homer in left field for a 3-1 lead.

“I was conscious of the fact that he was gonna possibly pitch me inside that at-bat," Meneses said, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. "I was actually trying to sit on an off-speed because that's what he threw the first at-bat, a lot off-speed to me. So I was staying back on the off-speed.”

That would be all they needed. Another solid night at the plate. (Except for Abrams, who went 0-for-5 and saw his strikeout streak from last night carry over and reach seven straight at-bats before finally putting a ball in play.)

The Nationals have now won back-to-back series at Truist Park, dating back to the end of last year. It's their first four-game series win here since 2016. They are now 8-6 against National League East rivals this year (five of those losses coming against the Phillies). And they’ve won five of their last seven overall.

“I think it's very important," Meneses said of beating the Braves. "Especially for the confidence for this team, knowing that we beat a very good team in Atlanta, who is always in the fight, who is always in the playoffs. They're a very good team. So I think it gives this team a big boost in confidence.”

The Nats will head to Cleveland this weekend before returning home to face the Mets for the first time and these very Braves again next week.

“Our offense, our defense, our baserunning, our starting pitchers and our relievers. It's really special to see what we can do," Williams said. "It's a testament to this series. We're gonna go on to Cleveland and see what we can do. And get home and continue to play against teams in our division."

"It definitely was a good series to see our whole team compete and do what they did," Davey Martinez said. "I mean, not one guy's doing it. Everybody's contributing, so it's been a good series. We got a late night. Get to Cleveland. Let's do it again.”

* Cade Cavalli finished his rehab start with High-A Wilmington after 2 ⅔ innings and 54 pitches, 30 strikes. He was charged with no hits, two runs, three walks, a hit batter, five strikeouts and two wild pitches.

The runs scored on a bases-loaded wild pitch and then a sacrifice fly.

“The good thing is he was in the upper 90s with his fastball. So he's doing well," Davey Martinez said. "Let's see how he feels tomorrow, but we got to keep building him up.”

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