Scherzer can't put Braves away early, falls 7-1

ATLANTA - The Braves took advantage of an early fielding mistake by the Nationals and a rare uneven performance from Max Scherzer in a 7-1 series-clinching victory at SunTrust Park on Wednesday.

It was the first series loss of the season for the Nats. Both teams are 4-2, and are tied for second place in the National League East.

Spurred by another three-run homer from Preston Tucker, the Braves raced out to a 3-0 lead. Tucker had a three-run shot in Tuesday's 13-6 Atlanta victory.

Tucker got the opportunity to bat in the first with two men on after second baseman Wilmer Difo booted a routine grounder to second that would have ended the inning.

"It was just a regular ground ball," Difo said via interpreter Octavio Martinez. "I tried to field it and make the play, and unfortunately it didn't come out that way. I tried my best to make the out. Just keep working and not let that happen again."

Even the Braves starting pitcher got into the act with a two-run double. Mike Foltynewicz (1-0) gave his team a 5-1 lead in the fourth with the two-run base hit. He also tossed 5 1/3 innings, allowing only one run on four hits for his first win of the season.

"He was having great control of his pitches today," Difo said. "He was also fortunate that we didn't get to him. At the same time, you give him credit. He pitched very well and did a great job and held us down. You hope next time that we get him."

scherzer-pitching-gray-close-sidebar.jpgScherzer lasted five innings, allowing five runs with only two of them earned. He struck out seven and walked two. Taxed to 110 pitches, Scherzer had trouble finishing off hitters.

"I didn't have good putaway pitches," Scherzer said. "I got to two strikes, and just didn't seem to put guys away. That led to at-bats kind of getting extended. They were able to grind out their at-bats, and get hits on pitches that later in the at-bat. I didn't execute as well.

"Kudos to them to grinding me apart, understanding what I'm trying to do. Here we go next time out, face them again. We'll make some adjustments and go right back after them. This is what happens when you face divisional teams this much."

Nationals manager Davey Martinez wasn't disappointed in Scherzer, even though the Braves were able to find clutch base hits against him. Martinez saw Scherzer fight as he always does.

"You saw Max not being Max, but I saw Max grinding it out and showing his competitiveness and not giving in," Martinez said. "He left a couple pitches up and he talked about it. You saw Max get to 110 pitches and grind it out and try to keep us in the game."

With Scherzer building a heavy pitch count (88) through four innings, was there any thought about not letting him head out to pitch the fifth?

"No," Martinez said. "We have open lines of communication and we talk all the time and he's pretty good about that. We thought today would be a good day for him to go 110 pitches, which he finished on the nose."

Also unusual for the Nats was a lack of offensive firepower. Despite a promising start to the first inning, the Nats couldn't muster a clutch hit most of the day. The Nats were held to six hits.

Anthony Rendon singled and Bryce Harper walked with one away to start a rally in the top of the first. But Matt Adams and Trea Turner struck out to end the threat. It was the first time this season the Nats did not score at least one run in the first inning.

Scherzer got the Nats on the board in the second with a run-scoring single to left field. But moments later, he was picked off first by a quick throw from Braves catcher Carlos Pérez.

The best opportunity for the Nats to get back in the game came in the sixth when they loaded the bases with two outs.

Adams had doubled with one out. Foltynewicz was replaced by right-hander Peter Moylan, who walked Turner. Michael A. Taylor grounded out. Turner stole second. Difo was walked to load the bases.

With two outs, the Nationals pinch-hit with Brian Goodwin. The Braves then went to their bullpen and summoned left-hander Sam Freeman. The Nationals countered again with pinch-hitter Ryan Zimmerman.

Zimmerman was caught looking to end the inning.

Martinez was not frustrated wasting Goodwin in that situation, even though Goodwin was 3-for-5 (.600) lifetime versus Freeman coming in.

"It was all about the matchups," Martinez said. "I knew that if they bring Freeman in, Zim matched up really well with him. We just played the matchups. We're trying to come back. Perfect opportunity. You're just going to use Zim to pinch-hit and that was the perfect spot for him. I saw the chance and took it.

"If we tie the game right there, I knew we still had Howie (Kendrick) on the bench. So we took a chance to try to put some big runs on the board."

The Nats were 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position and left 12 men on base. The Nats also struck out 12 times, including four times caught looking.

After outscoring opponents 29-13 in their first four games, the Nats have been outscored 20-7 over the last two contests.

One very impressive defensive play for the Nats occurred in the third when left fielder Adam Eaton made a diving catch on an Ozzie Albies' drive to deep left-center field. If the ball had fallen in, a run would have scored and Albies would have gotten extra bases. The play was even more amazing considering Eaton's return this season from major knee surgery.

Martinez is still happy with a 4-2 road trip to begin the season. The Nats' home opener is Thursday afternoon against the Mets at Nats Park.

"(Going) 4-2, good road trip," said Martinez. "It's a good start. We get on a plane tonight and we go open up at home and have a lot of fun."

Difo agreed it was a good start, despite these last two losses in Atlanta.

"It was a great road series for us, winning four out of six," Difo said. "You're striving to win every game. You can't do that every time. I'm real pleased with the way the team's been playing. We look really good and I feel great as well. So hopefully it continues when we get home."

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