Braves have 2 ejections, 4 hits in 4-1 loss to Nats

WASHINGTON – Ervin Santana's pitching line wasn't bad Sunday, but it was how he arrived at his three runs allowed in six innings that was problematic for a Braves offense that can look awful some days, like it did on this one.

The Nationals scored two runs in the first inning and cruised to a 4-1 win against to finish with a split of a four-game series and move back to 1 ½ games ahead of the second-place Braves in the National League East standings.

Braves catcher Evan Gattis’ 20-game hitting streak, Chris Johnson and Justin Upton were ejected for arguing after strikeouts, and the Braves totaled just nine hits and one run during consecutive weekend losses against a team they had beaten seven out of eight times previously this season.

“If we would’ve lost the first two games and won the last two games, you’d be feeling pretty good about yourself,” said manager Fredi Gonzalez, whose Braves have a day off Monday in Houston before opening a three-game series against the Astros. “It didn’t happen that way. It happened the other way, so you’re not feeling real good about yourself. And our goal is always to win series and we didn’t do that. But we didn’t lose a series.”

Santana (5-5) allowed six hits, three runs and one walk with nine strikeouts, falling to 1-5 in his past eight starts.

“He settled in there nicely,” Braves right fielder Jason Heyward said. “It’s a shame we didn’t get him a couple of runs and put some pressure on their pitcher. (Tanner Roark) was able to wiggle his way out of some jams and he still had that comfortable lead. Ervin threw really well for us, their pitcher just threw better.”

Before the back-to-back losses, the Braves had won 24 of their previous 31 games against the Nationals including 12 of 15 at Nationals Park.

“We came to compete every day,” said Gattis, who went 0-for-3 with a walk to snap his hitting streak. “I can’t think of something that they did better. Maybe their pitching has been a little bit better, but we just haven’t hit the ball as well as we did in the past.”

As for the hitting streak, he said, “It had to end sometime. It was a good run.”

The only offensive outburst by a Brave with a bat in his hand Sunday came when Johnson was ejected from the game in the sixth inning, after pointing and cursing at first-base umpire Tim Welke. The ump had rung him up on an appealed check-swing call for the second out with runners on first and second.

Justin Upton singled to drive in the Braves’ only run and cut the lead to 3-1 and chase Roark from the game, and Johnson came up with a chance to tie or put the Braves ahead with a base hit. Replays appeared to show that he indeed checked his swing, but Welke called him out and Johnson was furious.

“I check-swung and turned around just to regroup and get myself ready for the next pitch,” Johnson said. “And then I heard the crowd start cheering, and so I turned around and I was shocked – shocked – that he run me up on that.”

The notoriously volatile Johnson got caught up in the moment and soon hurled a stream of obscenities at the umpire.

“Big spot,” Johnson said of the situation. “Getting late in the ballgame, we had just got their starter out of the game, couple of guys on, one out. You know. Middle part of our order. It was a pretty big spot in the game for a call like that.”

Home-plate ump Mark Carlson tossed him after Johnson began pointing and shouting at Welke. Johnson continued to point and shout at Welke all the way to the dugout and from the dugout before heading to the clubhouse.

Johnson’s and Upton’s ejections were the fourth and fifth of the season for the Braves.

“From the dugout I didn’t think I saw the bat go across the plate, but I’ve got the worst seat in the house,” Gonzalez said. “It’s a situation where he’s a highly competitive guy and he wants to drive those runs in and he felt like he didn’t go around.”

After going 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position in Saturday’s 3-0 loss, they went 1-for-7 in those situations Sunday. They had two on when Justin Upton grounded out to end the fourth inning, and two on when B.J. Upton struck out to end the fifth.

Roark (6-5) allowed four hits and one run in 5 1/3 innings, with three walks and three strikeouts.

Santana is 1-5 with a 5.96 ERA in his past eight starts after going 4-0 with a 1.99 ERA in his first six. He has four “quality starts” in his past five, albeit with the minimum requirement for that category – three earned runs in six innings — in three of those starts.

Still, he was a lot better Sunday than he’s been in other recent starts. He struck out seven of the next 10 batters after giving up the sacrifice fly to Ian Desmond that put the Nationals ahead 2-0 in the first inning.

“I was encouraged by a lot of things Santana did,” Gonzalez said. “His velocity was really good, his fastball was sharp, it had some movement to it. His breaking ball was outstanding. I thought it was a really good outing by him today.”

The Nationals had a two-run lead after sending their first five batters to the plate in the first inning. Anthony Rendon walked with one out, Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche each singled (the latter driving in a run), and Ryan Zimmerman added a sacrifice fly before Santana struck out Desmond.

Santana struck out two consecutive batters in each of the next three scoreless innings, including Werth and Laroche with a runner at third in the third inning.

“I felt a lot better,” Santana said. “Everything was much better today, location was very good. The first inning (the ball) was a little bit up, but after that I was able to keep the ball down, for the most part.”

The Nationals pushed their lead to 3-0 in the fifth inning on a leadoff single by Sandy Leon and Denard Span’s one-out double. They scored again in the eighth on a wild pitch by Luis Avilan, a run charged to rookie reliever Shae Simmons.”