Fried was next to brilliant, firing seven shutout innings, striking out nine and allowing one infield single for his 16th win.
“He was really good, he threw all his pitches for strikes, kept us off balance most of the night,” said Nationals manager Davey Martinez. “When you see Juan (Soto) have at-bats like that, that tells you he’s pretty much spot on and he was pretty good.”
Trea Turner reached base late and scored a run, but struck out twice and finished 0-for-3 against Fried.
“Well, you’d hope to get on base and make him pitch from the stretch, and we didn’t seem to do that.” Turner said. “You know, it’s the same things as always - keep people in the zone, make sure you get pitches to hit, and if you can get some runners on base, then I think helps break that rhythm of throwing out of the windup so much, and tonight he just seemed to have it all.”
The Braves now have an eight-game lead over the Nationals in the National League East with just 23 games to play. Strasburg said the Nats can’t let that deficit change their motivation for a postseason run.
“You really can’t,” Strasburg said. “You just have to focus on what you can control, and that’s who we got that day, and try and play our best baseball that day. It is what it is.”
Atlanta took advantage of some well-placed base hits in their first three at-bats off Strasburg. Ronald Acuña Jr. singled on a line drive to left field. The speedster moved to second base on a steal to get into scoring position.
That was big because Ozzie Albies then dropped in a perfectly placed bloop double into shallow left field to score Acuña with the first run of the game. Freddie Freeman greeted Strasburg with a single to left field to score Albies and it was 2-0 Braves.
“I wouldn’t say they were really mistake pitches,” Strasburg said. “I feel like I executed them, so that’s something I can control. But really can’t control how they battle it and hit it where we are not.”
The Nats attempted another one of their furious ninth-inning rallies that came up just short.
In the ninth, former Nats reliever Mark Melancon walked Gerardo Parra. Turner grounded into a fielder’s choice at second base. Victor Robles smashed a two-run shot to right-center field to cut the lead to 4-2. It was his 17th homer of the season.
“Our focus mainly is to win every series, no matter who we are playing, obviously more so, playing them cause they are in front of us,” Robles said via translator Octavio Martinez. “Our focus is still the same to try to catch them in the division. We don’t change in our focus at all. Keep battling all the way through.”
Acuña added a no-doubt solo shot on a 95 mph Strasburg fastball in the bottom of the third. His 37th homer went over the right field wall and the Braves led 3-0. With the Braves already compiling four walks off Strasburg, did he feel desperate to throw a strike there?
“It wasn’t like I was trying to lay one in there,” Strasburg said. “You have an idea. I think he just put a good swing on it. I think it’s more guys make adjustments and they start to change their approach off you and one they start doing that then it’s your job to make the adjustment as well.”
Fried’s lull-the-batter-to-sleep approach worked well, peppering in his slider and curveball control, keeping the Nats off the board in the first three innings. He had four early strikeouts. The Nats’ lone base hit was an infield single by Rendon in the first.
And then he just kept on going. Fried retired 19 batters in a row at one point. Soto struck out three times. Fried finished with nine strikeouts and allowed only the early Rendon single. Rendon reached second base on a passed ball. Washington had three baserunners all game.
Fried has struck out 20 batters in his last two starts.
With two outs in the eighth, Brian Dozier was the Nats’ first baserunner since the first inning when he earned a walk off Braves reliever Shane Greene.
Strasburg lasted six innings, giving up three runs on four hits with four walks and seven strikeouts. He threw a season-high 115 pitches, 71 for strikes.
“I gave everything I had,” Strasburg said. “It just wasn’t good enough tonight. But sometimes that happens. They made me work for it all night. I wasn’t expecting anything less. I was excited for the challenge. Those are just the type of games that you’re going to get and hopefully we come out on top tomorrow.”
Hunter Strickland, pitching close his hometown of Thomaston, Ga., was outstanding. Strickland pitched a 1-2-3 seventh inning, capped off by a 97 mph swinging strikeout of Acuña.
But the bullpen’s good fortune ended there. Roenis Elías’ right knee buckled on a pitch to Brian McCann in the eighth inning and he had to leave the game. It appeared Elias reinjured his right hamstring.
“He tweaked his hamstring,” Martinez said. “We don’t know anything definitive yet, it just got tight on him. We’ll know more tomorrow. Same one.”
Martinez believes Elías will have an MRI Friday.
“Probably, we’ll see how he feels tomorrow,” Martinez said. “He stretched ok, it’s just tight. So we’ll know more tomorrow.”
With Fernando Rodney pitching, McCann’s RBI single to right field off Dozier’s glove scored Albies to make it 4-0 Braves.