Ian Anderson delivers Braves’ best start this season in win

Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Ian Anderson delivers a pitch during the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Washington Nationals, Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Ian Anderson took the mound Saturday trying to redeem himself for his last start, when he showed spotty command and went only three innings, suffering his first loss in the majors.

Anderson showed more than redemption. He delivered the best performance by a Braves starter this season. The 22-year-old allowed one hit across seven scoreless innings. He struck out nine and walked three – but issued zero bases on balls after the second inning. The Braves defeated the Nationals 2-1 in Washington.

“He had that confident look back tonight,” manager Brian Snitker said. “Once he got through that second inning, that was a pretty gutsy pitch right there to end that inning when he got himself in trouble, then he got into a rhythm. He was clicking. He probably could’ve pitched all night.”

Anderson opened the second with consecutive walks, which prompted a mound visit from pitching coach Rick Kranitz. He responded with two flyouts and a strikeout.

Kranitz’s advice was to simplify things, Anderson said. Don’t try to do too much and slow the game down. The only National to reach base after that point was Asdrubal Cabrera, whose bunt single was their only hit against Anderson.

“It was a great learning experience, definitely,” Anderson said. “Every time I go out there, it’s going to be a learning experience no matter what the results are. So that’s how I looked at that second inning. I was able to reset a little bit after that inning, getting out of there. I was able to figure it out and that goes a long way for me and going forward.”

The Braves' starter retired 12 straight after Cabrera reached. He set down 18 of 19 Nationals after his back-to-back walks. Anderson became the second pitcher in 120 years to allow one hit or fewer in two starts of at least six innings across his first four appearances, according to the team.

Anderson’s change-up and curveball were the best they’ve been at the major-league level. The change-up generated nine called strikes or whiffs on 30 pitches. The curveball coaxed nine called strikes or whiffs with 18 curveballs.

The incoming reinforcements and Anderson’s emergence create hope the Braves' rotation might be serviceable by October. Ace Max Fried is expected to return late next week. Veteran lefty Cole Hamels is supposed to debut mid-week. Anderson has impressed in three of four starts, proving to be more reliable early than many of the young pitchers the Braves have tested in recent years.

Maybe with that trio, and whoever else provides consistency in the coming weeks, the Braves can patch together a staff that’ll give their vicious offense a chance in the postseason.

“We get Cole going, get Max back, Ian is going good,” Snitker said. “Hopefully all those guys will step up and do what we think they can.”

Notes from Saturday:

- Outfielder Ronald Acuna’s ankle looks fine. Acuna took a foul ball off his ankle in Friday’s game, requiring an early exit, but started Saturday. He opened the game with a lead-off single, stole second and scored on Marcell Ozuna’s single.

“He came in and he was so much better last night when the game was over than I thought he’d be,” Snitker said. “You’d have never known he was (injured) today. He was up and down the stairs. He was running fine.”

- The Braves added their second run in the fourth, when Adam Duvall doubled and came around to score on Ozzie Albies' ground ball through the right infield.

Albies has looked excellent since returning from over a month-long absence due to a bone bruise in his wrist. The All-Star second baseman is 7-for-19 with a homer, double and three RBIs in four games. He has two three-hit games in that span.

- When Anderson left, the Braves came dangerously close to squandering the lead. Adam Eaton singled and stole second against reliever Shane Greene. Trea Turner’s two-out double cut the Braves' lead in half and chased Greene, who recorded two outs. Will Smith induced a grounder from Juan Soto to end the inning with Turner stranded at second.

Mark Melancon, pitching for the third consecutive day, narrowly escaped the ninth. Cabrera reached on what appeared to be an Albies error – it was ruled a single – and Eric Thames earned a hit on a soft grounder that Austin Riley couldn’t scoop.

Melancon struck out Yan Gomes and got Luis Garcia to ground out. He intentionally walked Eaton to load the bases for Victor Robles, who flew out to right to end the game.

- The Braves and Nationals finish their season series Sunday, when Kyle Wright will make his second start since rejoining the rotation. He’ll face Nationals ace Max Scherzer, who hasn’t opposed the Braves this season. The Braves are 5-4 against the Nationals and would clinch the season series with a win.