The Braves usually break through early against Nationals ace Max Scherzer. Following through is much harder.
The Braves took a one-run lead against Scherzer on Monday that turned out to be tenuous with their latest spot starter, right-hander Ryan Weber, not up to the task. Trea Turner and Chris Heisey homered against Weber in the third inning to send the Nationals on the way to a 6-4 victory at Nationals Park.
The Braves (54-84) had their winning streak snapped at six games, which tied for their longest of the season. The Nationals (80-57) improved to 12-2 against the Braves this season.
Second baseman Jace Peterson knocked an RBI double in the second inning to continue a trend of early Braves success against Scherzer. The Braves scored a run in the first inning to tie Scherzer on opening day, led 4-3 after two innings on April 11 and scored three runs in the second inning for a 3-2 lead vs. Scherzer on Aug. 20.
Continuing another trend, the Braves didn’t do much scoring against Scherzer (16-7) after the early tally. They lost for the fourth time in as many games against Scherzer, who held them to two runs over seven innings while stranding nine base runners.
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“That’s what separates those (ace) guys, when he gets guys on base, he seems to find another gear and make even better pitches and keep you off balance,” Peterson said. “He’s who he is, and he threw a great game today.”
Braves center fielder Ender Inciarte started a rally in the ninth inning when he led off with a single against Nationals reliever Mark Melancon. Adonis Garcia followed with a single and Freddie Freeman’s infield hit scored Inciarte, who extended his hit streak to 16 games.
The comeback lost momentum when the next batter, Matt Kemp, hit into a double play. Nick Markakis followed with a single and right fielder Brian Goodwin chased down Anthony Recker’s hard drive to end the game.
“We are always going to make it interesting at the end,” Weber said. “The offense has really turned it on. Ender, his hitting streak, it’s fun to watch at the end of the game. Even though we are out of it, it really feels like we are never out of it.”
The Braves skipped Matt Wisler’s turn because of abdominal soreness and sent out Weber (1-1) for his first start of the season and first appearance since Aug. 28. The Braves have used 15 starting pitchers this season, tying an Atlanta franchise record set in 1975.
Braves interim manager Brian Snitker had said he hoped Weber could “get the plane off the ground” by pitching as long as he could before giving way to the bullpen. Weber, helped by a double-play ground ball to end the first inning, was meeting that goal until Turner smashed a two-run homer with one out in the third inning for a 2-1 lead.
Ben Revere followed with a double and Weber walked the next batter, Anthony Rendon. Clint Robinson popped out to the infield for the second out but Heisey homered to left to extend the lead to 5-1.
“I left one middle in, right in (Turner’s) wheelhouse, and after that my ability to limit the damage was not that good,” Weber said. “I made another bad pitch to Heisey and then it was really out of hand.”
Scherzer needed just six pitches in the first inning to retire the Braves in order. In the second inning Markakis singled with one out and Recker walked before Peterson hit an RBI double.
The Braves scored the other run against Scherzer in the sixth inning. Markakis led off with a double, Recker singled, and Peterson hit into a fielder’s choice to score Markakis. Scherzer struck out Gordon Beckham and, after pinch hitter A.J. Pierzynski singled, retired Inciarte to leave two runners on base.
The Braves had another chance to score against Scherzer in the fourth inning when Recker walked with one out and Peterson reached first base on an error. But Scherzer got Beckham to fly out to shallow left field and struck out pinch hitter Brandon Snyder.
“We left a lot of guys on against him, but that’s why he’s who he is, too,” Braves interim manager Brian Snitker said. “He gets in trouble and he’s got a lot of weapons he can go to.”