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Braves fall short against Nationals in twice rain-delayed game

Starting pitcher Mike Foltynewicz of the Atlanta Braves throws to a Washington Nationals batter in the third inning at Nationals Park on July 22, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Starting pitcher Mike Foltynewicz of the Atlanta Braves throws to a Washington Nationals batter in the third inning at Nationals Park on July 22, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Credit: Rob Carr

Credit: Rob Carr

Mike Foltynewicz pitched at Nationals Park in Tuesday’s All-Star game. His first start afterward came on the same mound against two-time reigning Cy Young winner Max Scherzer.

Neither Foltynewicz nor Scherzer were at their best, but each managed their way into the sixth after an hour and 55-minute rain delay before first pitch.

The Nationals, entering desperation mode after dropping to 48-49 with Friday’s loss, mustered up just enough offense to split a two-game series with the Braves. They won 6-2 on Sunday, pulling away after an hour and 38-minute suspension following the sixth inning.

“With what we’re getting ready to tackle here (down the stretch), it was big to get this game in,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “That’s what you get paid for. We’re used to (long days). ... We had a couple rain delays. It’s not uncommon. I don’t think that had anything to do with the outcome.”

It was the second consecutive game disrupted by tumultuous weather. Saturday’s postponed game will be part of a doubleheader when the Braves visit Washington for the final time in the regular season Aug. 7.

But Sunday, holding the feel of a ‘Let’s just get through this’ matinee, was as messy as the surrounding conditions. The Braves collected eight hits off Scherzer, and the Nationals had nine hits off Foltynewicz. The two teams combined for 28 total hits, and left 21.

In other words, offenses weren’t hard pressed despite the lack of early scoring. The Nationals’ hits were just a bit timelier.

Anthony Rendon’s two-run triple put Washington ahead in the first inning. Adam Eaton led off the frame with a single and Bryce Harper was walked. Rendon scored on Juan Soto’s groundout.

Foltynewicz allowed a baserunner in every inning. He gutted through 5-2/3 frames, throwing 112 pitches but limiting the Nationals after a three-run first. He struck out five and walked three, and while he wasn’t sharp, his velocity stayed in the upper-90s through the afternoon.

“It was a weird day,” Foltynewicz said. “Just a very tough team, a stressful team when they’re all healthy like they are. That’s definitely a team to watch out for. I battled the whole time. Just a stressful team and you have to be mentally in it 100 percent of the time. It took a lot out of me.”

Harper singled off Sam Freeman, who spelled Foltynewicz and inherited two baserunners, to extend Washington’s lead to two. Shane Carle got Rendon to ground out to end the sixth as the rain grew more vigorous.

The game was suspended with Washington holding a 4-2 lead. Given that the two will already require a doubleheader next trip, there was motivation to wait out the rain to avoid putting off another contest.

Scherzer was lifted for a pinch-hitter Michael Taylor in the sixth. He struck out seven and walked one, with the Braves’ scattered hits not enough to break through against the man who pitched a two-hit shutout against them in their last meeting (April 9).

“We grinded away on him,” Snitker said. “Had some good at-bats and got his pitch count up. But that guy never gives in. He’s an unbelievable competitor. As good as there is in the game.”

Dansby Swanson knocked in both runs against Scherzer. His grounder to score Johan Camargo put the Braves on the board in the second. He singled in the fourth to plate Tyler Flowers and pull the Braves to within a run.

Scherzer, considered by many as the best pitcher in the National League, if not MLB, owns a 3.44 ERA in 14 starts against the Braves in a Nationals uniform.

“That’s why he’s one of the best in the game,” Freddie Freeman said. “When you don’t think he has his best stuff, he still gets through six innings and you only get two runs off him. He still struck out six or seven of us. When you don’t have your best stuff, and you still give your team a chance, that’s why he’s top three in the game in my opinion.”

The post-second rain delay wasn’t much kinder to the Braves. Washington added an insurance run off Luke Jackson, and Bryce Harper took Dan Winkler deep to make it 6-2 in the eighth.

“(We need the relievers) To do what they’re capable of doing,” Snitker said. “They’re going to have ruts. We’ve talked about that. It’s going to happen. ... We’re in for the long haul here. This thing’s going to get really, really laborsome soon. We need guys to be efficient, we need them to throw strikes. I have all the confidence in the world in those guys. I’ve seen them do it before, and they’ll do it again.”

On a positive note, it was an encouraging showing for Ender Inciarte, whose three hits marked his first of such since June 19 and first multi-hit effort since July 4. He was hitting .152 (7-for-46) in 12 games this month, prompting manager Brian Snitker to replace him with Ronald Acuna at leadoff.

The Braves travel to Miami for a pair, then receive an off day Wednesday before opening a seven-game homestand against the Dodgers and Marlins. Sean Newcomb and Julio Teheran will start the games in Florida.