Norris blows leads vs. Nationals as Braves fall to 0-6

WASHINGTON — The Braves lost leads in the first and third innings and watch their exciting center-field prospect walk off the field with a bloodied face in the fourth inning of his major league debut.

Nationals Park continues to be a house of horrors for Atlanta.

Bud Norris couldn’t protect early leads and center-prospect Mallex Smith left with a cut over his left eye during a series-opening 6-4 loss that dropped the Braves to 0-6, the first time they’ve started that poorly since going 0-10 in 1988 to begin a 106-loss season.

“We’re trying our darndest,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “I went in there (in the postgame clubhouse) today, told the guys, keep your heads up. Don’t get down. If you have this in July, if you lose five in a row, six in a row in July, nobody worries. It’s the beginning of the season, and I am worried, but I know that we’re playing good baseball; we’re close to playing good baseball. And we’re going to be a lot better off for it.”

Gonzalez even instructed the Braves to play music in the clubhouse after the game, something the Braves normally aren’t permitted to do after a loss or during the postgame media interview period.

The Braves have lost 11 consecutive games at Nationals Park since the beginning of the 2015 season.

The good news: Smith’s laceration required five stitches, but he was otherwise fine. The other positives: Nick Markakis had two more doubles to give him six in his past three games. And the Braves got four runs in the first two innings against former Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer.

But Norris (0-2) couldn’t make the lead stand. Neither time.

Fredi Gonzalez said he was pleased with the overall game the Braves played, despite the frustration of giving backs runs after taking leads.

“That’s where we’re at now,” Gonzalez said. “You want shutdowns. You want to score a couple runs, come back in the dugout and go back out there as a defensive team and shut the other team down. We’re not there yet, but we’re getting close. And today looked like a good ballgame….

“We played good baseball. We swung the bats, pitched well, got out of some jams, made some good pitches there on some really good hitters. We’re close.”

A.J. Pierzynski staked Norris to a 2-0 lead in the first inning with a two-out, two-run double, but he gave up three runs in the bottom of the inning when he threw 37 pitches and allowed two walks and three hits, including a two-out, two-run homer by Daniel Murphy on a belt-high 93-mph fastball over the plate.

The Braves scored two more runs on three hits in the second inning, the last a two-run double by Markakis for a 4-3 lead.

Once again, Norris couldn’t hold it. The Nationals scored the tying run in the third inning when three of the first four batters collected singles, then reclaimed the lead in the fifth when Ryan Zimmerman hit a leadoff double and scored on Wilson Ramos’ two-out single.

“Still trying to find my timing with my windup,” said Norris, who was charged with nine hits, five runs and two walks in five innings, and threw 64 strikes in 96 pitches. “That was something that kind of (hurt me) tonight, couple of pitches that ran back over the middle. But it’s a long season.

“I feel really good as far as my arm is concerned and everything else. My health has been great, which is something I really took seriously this offseason. I hope it pays dividends towards the end, but we’ve got to get this thing turned around here and I hope we start winning some games soon.”

The Nationals tacked on an insurance run against the Braves bullpen in the seventh, when Alexi Ogando entered with two out and a runner on first and promptly allowed a walk and RBI single to the first two batters he faced.

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