WASHINGTON – On Sunday, Hurston Waldrep tried to play stopper. He started well, then lost control in the fourth inning.

And unfortunately for the Braves, their offense is not at a point where it can overcome a pitching performance that is not close to perfect. They are really, really struggling.

The Braves lost to the Nationals, 8-5, on Sunday at Nationals Park. Atlanta lost the final three games of this four-game series, and has dropped four of its last five games.

This is worse: The Braves have lost three of four to the Nationals twice in a week and a half. The Nationals are 30-35.

The Braves are 35-28, but they aren’t playing great baseball.

Five observations:

1. As the rain delay wound down and first pitch neared, Waldrep went out to play catch and continue his pregame routine. It hit him then.

“Just kind of looking around a little bit walking out, I was like, ‘Yeah, it’s pretty cool,’” he said.

He was about to make a start in the big leagues – a dream he’s held since he was 6 years old.

Waldrep pitched three hitless innings, then unraveled a bit in the Nationals seven-run fourth inning. He was charged with all seven runs, but the final three scored when C.J. Abrams laced a bases-clearing double off Aaron Bummer.

Waldrep looked the part – it’s easy to see why he was a first-round pick – but the Nationals had a beat on him in the second time through the order.

“I thought his command was decent. I think it’s just a matter of knowing your opposition and things like that,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “Like I say, second time through, it’s a little different. You know what, I think, too, these young guys, they come out, they make that first start and they expend a lot of energy, probably, warming up and (in) the first innings. It’s an atmosphere they’ve never experienced before.

“So, I think a lot of it is that, as I’ve noticed over the years that guys come and they kind of get a little tired quicker because of the energy and the hype and the adrenaline flow that they got going, and all that. But no, a lot to like out of that young man.”

In that fourth inning, Waldrep got the second out with two men on base. Then, on a slider down, he allowed a run-scoring single that went only 70 mph. And right after that, Keibert Ruiz turned on a fastball inside and sent a three-run homer over the right-field wall to give the Nationals a 4-2 lead.

Waldrep then went walk, single, walk.

Snitker came out to pull him after 3 2/3 innings.

“I felt good about some of them, and then I had some missed pitches that I felt like I should’ve had,” Waldrep said. “Should’ve made some pitches when I needed them. But overall, when I did make the pitch, when I did put the ball where it needed to be, it was really good.”

2. Something you should know about Waldrep: He’s hard on himself.

“That’s also to a fault,” he said. “I probably am too hard on myself. Also, I feel like it’s necessary for the player that I want to be. But just put it behind me, learn from it and keep going.”

His drive and determination define him. But after a start like this, he’ll need to understand – and he does – this is a process. He’s only 22 years old. This was only his first start.

There’s a lot to like.

Waldrep, who finished with 62 pitches, touched 98.1 mph with his four-seam fastball and averaged 95.7 mph with the pitch. His splitter – the pitch that got him here – produced six whiffs on 14 swings.

“This kid’s gonna be in the big leagues,” Snitker said. “And I think just the experience right now, early on, is really good for him.”

This start, though, felt different for Waldrep. He achieved a dream.

Now he’s looking ahead.

“Even with the outcome, just to be able to get this one out of the way, it’s pretty cool,” he said. “The atmosphere was great. It is what is in. In the past now.”

In the top of the ninth, with no outs, Jarred Kelenic launched a three-run home run. It looked as if it might give the Braves life, but it became a footnote in an awful series.

“Got a good fastball hit,” Kelenic said. “Been late on a few fastballs, and finally, it felt good to get extended on one and just hit a missile.”

3. On Sunday, the Braves scored two runs in the second inning to take an early lead. One came on a wild pitch. And after it, the Braves still had runners on second and third base with one out.

They couldn’t break open the inning.

“You hope to (score more there),” Snitker said. “It was just nice to get out to a lead. It was nice to see us kind of come alive there in the end. We got a long, long way to go – a lot of room (to grow). We’re gonna get better, we’re gonna kind of start hitting on all cylinders and things will be fine.”

They fell behind for good in Waldrep’s rough fourth inning. They didn’t score again until Kelenic’s homer.

The Braves are now 2-6 against the Nationals this season, which seems unfathomable given how talented the Braves are from top to bottom. But it’s true: The Braves and Nationals have played two series this season, and Washington has handled Atlanta – twice.

“I think it’s just part of it,” Kelenic said. “We’re in a tough stretch right now, but we could win 12 in a row, 20 in a row starting (Tuesday). I don’t think we’re really caught up in all that stuff. I would say that we’re really focusing on moving forward and how we can get better, because we got to play better baseball, on both sides of the ball. So I think that our main focus right now is getting better and we got an off day tomorrow, and showing up on Tuesday and going to work.”

4. By striking out Jacob Young looking to end the bottom of the fifth, Jesse Chavez recorded his 1,000th career strikeout. It’s an incredible accomplishment, especially given Chavez’s lengthy journey.

“That’s a unique number in itself,” Chavez said. “Any time you put a comma in any baseball stat, that’s pretty unique in itself, right? Like I said earlier to the guys, I’ll never complain about the journey it took to get there, I’ll never, not once, disrespect any of those hitters that I’ve ever (struck out) at one point. It’s unique in itself, to do that. Longevity comes into play with that. But having great teammates around throughout the years to get you through that, because it’s hard. It’s hard to get to arbitration, it’s hard to get to free agency now, it’s hard to get to 10 years.

“Being able to do that and accomplish that, I really hope the conversations I have with the younger guys throughout the process have impacted them a little bit of, it’s not easy. There’s gonna be bumps in the road, but you gotta get back over those bumps to understand what it’s like. I may walk 1,000 before you get to 1,000 (strikeouts), but as long as you stay on that grind and understand it, you’ll get there.”

5. The road doesn’t become easier. In fact, it gets tougher.

The Braves now head to Baltimore for three games against the Orioles, who are 42-22 and are tied for MLB’s third-best winning percentage.

The Braves will start Max Fried on Tuesday, Spencer Schwellenbach on Wednesday and Reynaldo López on Thursday.

The message for the Braves?

“Keep grinding,” Snitker said. “Keep fighting the fight, that’s what we do. They’re a good team, so are we. Excited about going there and playing.”

The Braves can flush this with an off day on Monday.

But this weekend was bad.

“Eventually, we’re gonna come out of this offensive funk we’re in. I got no doubt that that’s going to happen,” Snitker said. “We’re not playing bad baseball. Things aren’t going our way. And you got on them runs, and they do, and that’s when you get on a run.”

Stat to know

9 - The Braves are nine games behind the first-place Phillies in the National League East standings.


“Yeah, there’s definitely a balance. I like to look at failure and the pressure of those higher standards as, like, a privilege, to be able to understand how much you can gain from failure. I’m not necessarily saying that I’m attracted to failing, but being able to acknowledge and to move on and learn from your mistakes. A lot of mistakes in baseball, a lot of failures in baseball, so learning as we go and just (go) pitch by pitch.”-Waldrep on Saturday about the balance between having high standards

Up next

Tuesday’s series opener in Baltimore begins at 6:35 p.m.