The Nationals offense could not get going until late, and a furious rally attempt fell just short as the Braves eked out a 2-1 nail-biter Saturday night at Nats Park.
Left-hander Patrick Corbin was very good and gave the Nationals a chance to win.
Right-hander Ian Anderson fired seven shutout innings, allowing only one hit and striking out nine as the Braves held off the Nats. In the end, RBI singles by Marcell Ozuna and Ozzie Albies were all the Braves offense needed to earn the win.
Although the Nats made it interesting in the late going against the Braves bullpen.
Facing reliever Shane Greene in the bottom of the eighth, pinch-hitter Adam Eaton, a late scratch from the starting lineup due to back spasms, singled sharply to right field. Eaton then stole second base. After a pair of strikeouts, Trea Turner doubled to the wall in right-center to score Eaton. The Nats were down 2-1.
The Braves summoned Will Smith to face Juan Soto. In Atlanta earlier this season, Soto got Smith with a mammoth homer and stared him down as he rounded the bases. Smith yelled back at Soto.
If Soto could do that again on this night, the Nats would have the lead. But on a 3-2 count, Smith got Soto to roll over to second base on a grounder and end the threat.
In the bottom of the ninth against the Braves closer Mark Melancon, Asdrúbal Cabrera collected his second hit of the game, a single off the glove of Albies. Josh Harrison replaced Cabrera as the pinch-runner. Eric Thames hit a dribbler in the infield that third baseman Austin Riley couldn’t handle, and it turned into a base hit. Carter Kieboom pinch-ran for Thames.
With the bases loaded, late outfield substitution Victor Robles stepped in. Robles flew out to right field on the first pitch to end the game.
“Patrick did a good job of keeping us close,” said manager Davey Martinez during the postgame Zoom video session with reporters. “When you have a kid out there that’s pitching just as good, you just want to stay close enough so we have a chance, and we had a chance in the ninth inning. We had the winning run on second base, we just couldn’t pull it off.
“That kid was good. He had a really good changeup. Threw strikes when he needed to. Threw the changeup when he needed to for strikes. He was really good.”
Corbin had talked about how the Braves were able to recognize his slider last Sunday and not swing at it. Atlanta scored five runs on nine hits off Corbin that day in a 10-3 win. Six days later, Corbin faced off against the Braves again.
“It felt good to go out there in that seventh and get through it, finish an inning, to around 110 pitches there,” Corbin said. “They made me work. That pitch count got up a little bit, was high earlier in the game. Even though I wasn’t walking guys, just guys put tough at-bats on you throughout the whole order. I thought I did make some good pitches throughout the game, gave up some hits, and they made it tough on myself. It’s a good team over there.”
In the first inning, Atlanta saw what Corbin was trying to do, again. Ronald Acuña Jr. waited out Corbin’s patented slider and notched a base hit off his fastball. After Corbin got Freddie Freeman to pop up in his slider, Acuña stole second base. Ozuna followed with an RBI single off of Corbin’s fastball to make it 1-0 Braves.
The Braves added another run in the fourth. Adam Duvall doubled to deep right-center field and Albies singled to the opposite field to bring him home. Braves led 2-0.
But Corbin stayed on course. The Nats’ ace lefty finished a season-high seven innings, allowing two runs on nine hits with no walks and eight strikeouts. Corbin fired 108 pitches, 73 for strikes. Even though the results were better as far as runs scored tonight, Corbin said he felt much the same as he did last Sunday at Truist Park.
“I felt very similar,” Corbin said. “I thought my stuff was the same there, which is good. I feel like I’m starting to get where I want to be. I think the results weren’t there last game. Today, even though giving up some hits, I thought I made some pitches. Just try to continue through this. I think I’ll have two more regular season starts here. Hopefully, we can start putting some wins together.”
Kyle McGowin worked two shutout innings in relief of Corbin. He struck out four, including the side in the ninth.
Anderson’s line was impressive, as he was able to mix his changeup and curveball in for huge outs. He finished seven shutout innings, allowing one hit on three walks and striking out nine, on 99 pitches, 58 for strikes.
Turner says facing a rookie is a tough task, and Anderson did a nice job mixing his breaking pitches for strikes at the right time.
“You watch video, you see arm actions and velos and whatnot, but sometimes when you get in the box you see a guy better or worse,” Turner said. “A pitch moves a certain way that looks different on video. It’s just facing him and realizing what he has and how he uses it. He did a good job.
“Early on we took our walks and he was a little wild, but then he settled in and he wasn’t afraid to throw that changeup in any count, which I think is a big benefit for him and made it tough on us. He used all three pitches, had some velo, just a good outing by him.”
And even though the Nats failed in their comeback attempt, they had two shots in the late going to win it. Turner believes that is still a positive sign for this team as they battle for the final couple of weeks, and that these moments will help them going forward.
“I love yesterday and today,” Turner said. “I know we got a lot of veterans, but we got a lot of guys that haven’t played in big games. The last two days kind of felt like that. A little adrenaline going at the end of the game, facing closers, extra innings, tie ballgames. It’s good for us. It’s good for us to get in those games. Unfortunately, we lost tonight, but we won yesterday and I think we played well. It’s just good to be in these games. You can build off it and use it for later in the year, and also next year.”