Barrett’s triumphant return not enough as Nats fall again 5-4

ATLANTA - Even the amazing return of Aaron Barrett, solid pitching on short notice from Austin Voth and a clutch hit from Juan Soto would not be enough to overcome an Atlanta Braves team that is on a significant hot streak.

The Braves mustered four homers on the night and rode their starter, Julio Teheran, to a 5-4 win, building their lead in the National League East to double digits. Atlanta has won nine in a row overall and nine of their last 12 games against the Nats.

Atlanta’s starters have been outstanding in the series, allowing just one earned run in 19 innings with 20 strikeouts and a 0.47 ERA.

“They’re keeping us off balance, for sure,” said Nationals manager Davey Martinez. “We had some opportunities, we’re hitting the ball hard. We’re just not getting that one hit that we need, that one to break it open early, so let’s just come back tomorrow and try to knock the doors down early and try to get something going early.”

Called into the start late this week after Joe Ross went down with a right forearm strain, Voth (1-1) did his job with four innings of work. The 27-year-old gave up only two runs on three hits with two walks and six strikeouts. Ozzie Albies and Josh Donaldson hit solo shots, but that was it. Pretty impressive, considering Voth’s last outing was out of the bullpen on Sept. 2.

“Went pretty well,” Voth said. “Fastball command was good, slider and curveball, had a bunch of punchies on them, but overall pretty good.

“Even when you make good pitches they’re going to hit them out. It’s just tough. You just got to challenge them and pitch to your strengths and see what happens.”

But far and away the most inspiring moment of the evening for the Nats arrived when Barrett made his first appearance in a major league game in over four years. He recorded a shutout fifth inning. He walked one batter. The highlight of Barrett’s outing was a three-pitch strikeout of the dangerous Ronald Acuña Jr.

“It was a moment I’ll never forget,” Martinez said. “And I’m just really happy that I was a part of it.”

Barrett-Dugout-Emotion-Red-Away-sidebar.jpgAfter getting back to the dugout, Barrett, overcome with emotion, cried into a towel as he sat on the bench. Martinez, pitching coach Paul Menhart and Barrett’s teammates rallied around him.

“I was trying to take deep breaths the whole time, just try to slow the game down in that moment,” Barrett said. “You’re trying to take it all in, but at the same time it’s a 2-1 game and I’m just trying to keep the guys still in the game and put up a zero.

“It was just a special moment, obviously a moment I’ll never forget and like I said, I think once I got those initial jitters out, kind of helped try to take some deep breaths and go after it.”

The Braves scored three more runs in the sixth inning on back-to-back homers off Hunter Strickland. Brian McCann hit a two-run shot and Matt Joyce blasted a solo homer to extend the Braves’ lead to 5-1.

The Nats first run came on a solo homer by Asdrúbal Cabrera down the right field line in the fifth inning. Teheran (10-8) finished six frames, allowing one run on three hits with one walk and eight strikeouts.

Washington had a big chance to get back in the game in the seventh. Down 5-1, they loaded the bases, thanks to three free passes from Braves relievers Darren O’Day and Sean Newcomb.

But Ryan Zimmerman grounded into a 5-4-3 double play that scored just one run. Facing Josh Tomlin, pinch-hitter Howie Kendrick lined out to center fielder Acuña to end the inning. The Nats were still down 5-2 after six and a half innings.

Catcher Kurt Suzuki arrived in the seventh but injured his arm throwing to second on a steal attempt by Rafael Ortega. Suzuki had to leave the game when the Nats came to bat in the top of the eighth, replaced by pinch-hitter Gerardo Parra.

“He’s going to get evaluated by the doctor,” Martinez said. “It’s his right elbow, so I don’t know anything right now. They left to go see a doctor. He threw the ball to second and he felt a sharp pain. I didn’t want to chance it. He wanted to hit, but he didn’t want to do that.”

In the eighth, Trea Turner doubled and Adam Eaton was hit by a pitch. Juan Soto drilled a 3-2 pitch to deep right-center field. Billy Hamilton dove for the scorching liner, but was unable to come up with the ball. Soto’s two-run double cut the Braves’ lead to 5-4. He now has a career-high 100 RBIs on the season.

“For me, it’s amazing,” Soto said. “It’s really good and I feel proud of myself. I hope we can win the game. But what I was hitting (in) that at-bat, I just think to get this guy and get a base hit and try to help my team the most I can.”

In an unfortunate repeat of Friday, the Nats got within one run, but again could not plate the equalizer. With Soto on second base, Cabrera grounded out to shortstop to end the inning.

And in the ninth, Mark Melancon struck out Zimmerman looking, Victor Robles lined out to left field. Pinch-hitter Matt Adams took a called third strike to end the game.

Another small positive for the Nats was how their closer performed. Sean Doolittle looked very impressive with a 1-2-3 eighth inning, which included strikeouts of pinch-hitter Johan Camargo and Hamilton. His fastball hovered around his normal 92-94 mph range.

“Doolittle threw the ball well, and that was awesome,” Martinez said. “Because like I said before, we’re going to need him, and that was a big spot for him and he came in and did well.”

Turner had two doubles and a single, but the Nats have only 17 hits as a team in the series. The Nats have lost four games in a row and five of their last six. They turn to Max Scherzer for Sunday’s series finale in an attempt to prevent the sweep.

“We just feel a little bit down, but we still have the chance,” Soto said. “We got another series with them, so we got to keep it going. We got a game tomorrow we got to win and then get these guys in the next series and try to win all the series we have and let’s see what happens at the final.”

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