ATLANTA - For the second game in a row, the Nationals had trouble scoring runs against a Braves left-handed starter.
On Thursday night, Max Fried tossed seven shutout innings and struck out nine in a 4-2 Atlanta win.
Friday night, Dallas Keuchel (7-5) kept the Nats off the board for six innings, guiding the Braves to an early 2-0 advantage.
Josh Donaldson added a two-run shot off of Wander Suero in the seventh. The veteran third baseman connected on a curveball.
Ryan Zimmerman unleashed a dramatic three-run line drive homer against Luke Jackson in the eighth inning to cut the deficit to 4-3. But Shane Greene was able to record a 1-2-3 ninth inning for his 23rd save and suddenly the Braves have won eight straight games, including the first two in this crucial four-game set.
“Yeah, sometimes they’re good too,” Zimmerman said. “The guy’s won a Cy Young and a World Series. Sometimes they’re just going to be better, he was really good tonight. I think (hitting coach Kevin Long) went back and looked and said something like the whole night he made 4-5 mistakes over the middle of the plate. So sometimes they’re going to beat you. Did a good job of getting back into the game though, Patrick (Corbin) threw the ball pretty well too.”
Suddenly, in a series that Nats had to win at least three to make a dent in the Braves division lead, now face the prospect of trying to find a way to just earn a split.
“We battled back,” said Nationals manager Davey Martinez. “Corbin, the pitch count was high. But he battled. He battled, kept us in the game. We wanted to keep it at two and just one pitch there hurt us.
“We come back, Zim with the big three-run homer. This game is sometimes unforgiving. I’m proud of the boys for constantly coming back. We could’ve sat there 2-0, Keuchel’s pitching well, just toss in the towel. They don’t do it. They’re going to fight.”
It was Keuchel’s first win over the Nats in six career starts.
Ozzie Albies cranked a solo homer to left field to put the Braves up 1-0 on Corbin in the third.
The Braves added a second run in the fourth. Adam Duvall led off the inning with a double to center field. An Anthony Rendon fielding error got Duvall to third base. Duvall came home on a long fly ball to right field by Tyler Flowers. The Braves led 2-0. Corbin was taxed to 76 pitches through four innings.
But despite having to throw so many pitches to get through each frame, Corbin hung in there for five innings and 107 pitches. The best example of the left-hander’s determination was his final inning when he allowed three walks in a row with two away in the fifth. Despite facing a bases loaded jam with the game in balance, Corbin struck out Dansby Swanson on an 0-2 fastball.
“I felt good, I mean obviously they are a great team over there, a deep lineup, they had some great at-bats and got my pitch count up,” Corbin said. “I was able to get out of some jams. The homer was just a slider that wasn’t very good. But I mean they’re a hot team, they’ve been playing pretty much the same way all season, and we know they’re chasing them. The last two days have been tough, we just have to get over this one and come back tomorrow.”
Corbin allowed two runs (one earned) on three hits, but with a season-high six walks and nine strikeouts.
The Nats started the first and fourth innings with back-to-back singles but were unable to score off of Keuchel. In the first inning, Trea Turner and Howie Kendrick singled but the inning ended on a 6-4-3 double play by Zimmerman.
“We missed an opportunity early to put some big runs on the board,” Martinez said. “Keuchel pitched out of a jam there and the play at third base, good heads up play. Just couldn’t get any runs that first inning.”
The Nats stepped up defensively in the sixth. Victor Robles nabbed Flowers at the plate, thanks to a perfect standing tag by Gomes. Reliever Tanner Rainey helped his own cause when he picked off speedster Billy Hamilton at second base. After video review, Turner’s swiping tag confirmed the end of the inning.
Keuchel was outstanding, firing six shutout innings on six hits with two walks and three strikeouts. He had to throw only 94 pitches, 59 for strikes.
The Nats trailed 4-0 in the eighth when they went after the Braves bullpen. Kendrick and Rendon singled against Jackson. Zimmerman then drilled a line drive three-run homer over the left field wall to cut the Braves lead to 4-3. It was his fifth homer of the season.
But Sean Newcomb was able to strike out Robles and got Gomes to roll over on a grounder to the shortstop to end the rally.
The Nats have lost three in a row and four of five for the first time since Aug. 4.
“Obviously, it’s not how we want it to go, we have two more games here,” Corbin said. “We’re still a confident group here. We know how hot that they have been, and we just got to come back tomorrow and we will. We’ll get over this one and be ready to go. We’re still in a good position to do stuff, so we still have the confidence to do something.”