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Braves mount another comeback, clip Nats 3-2

The Braves scored two in the eighth and then Raisel Iglesias slammed the door as they won their sixth game in a row

Washington Nationals v Atlanta Braves Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Coming into tonight’s series opener against the Washington Nationals, the Atlanta Braves had a five-game winning streak in which the last four games were all come-from-behind wins. After trailing two separate times in this one, the comeback kids saddled up once again and sequenced two runs in the bottom of the eighth in order to run the streak to six, with five consecutive comebacks.

The big story heading into this game was the rotation debut for AJ Smith-Shawver, who flew up the minor league ladder in the spring. All in all, Smith-Shawver’s start was probably a little different than what most people expected, but it was ultimately enough to keep the Braves in the game and squeak out a win late. The game started in unfortunate fashion for the rookie right-hander, as a bloop single that popped out of a diving Michael Harris II’s glove, a throwing error on a steal, and a second bloop single made it 1-0 Nationals before Smith-Shawver had even retired a batter. From there, he cruised for a while, facing the minimum through the third inning, and allowing just a walk that was erased on a double play.

Smith-Shawver ran into trouble in the fourth. Luis Garcia reached on a leadoff infield single, and Smith-Shawver fell behind Joey Meneses before getting him to ground into a forceout on 3-1. He then issued a five-pitch walk, but was able to escape the jam with two balls hit weakly in the air. He then recovered nicely in the fifth — an 11-pitch inning with two groundouts sandwiching a strikeout.

After a fielding error started his sixth, Garcia hit another grounder. This time, the Braves were in a pseudo-shift, and the hard-hit grounder was fielded by Austin Riley playing near the traditional shortstop location. Riley threw to second, and the relay went to first. Initially, both runners were ruled out, but on replay, the call at second was overturned, as Lane Thomas running on the play paid dividends for Washington. That was it for Smith-Shawver’s debut, as he gave way to Collin McHugh.

The xFIP for Smith-Shawver didn’t look great tonight, as he allowed a bunch of balls in the air and managed just a 2/2 K/BB ratio. However, only three balls in play against him were hard-hit (i.e., above 95 mph), and two of those were the sequence that got him chased in the sixth. Smith-Shawver struggled to command his slider, and his fastball was more a get-me-over than a dangerous whiff-inducer, but he did fine against a diminished lineup. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with him going forward — there’s no reason not to start him again, and there’ll be an xFIP-versus-xwOBA battle for his forward-looking success playing out in front of our eyes.

Unfortunately for the Braves, that infield error and overturned call came to roost almost immediately. Meneses was the first obstacle for McHugh, and he barreled a double into the left-center gap to give the Nationals their second run and lead. McHugh got out of the sixth without further trouble, and then also escaped a two-on jam in the seventh with no damage. Kirby Yates had himself a nice inning in the eighth, with two strikeouts and a groundout.

While the pitching managed the Washington attack just fine, the bats were very much stymied early on by Josiah Gray. Though Gray threatened to walk the world (and walked, arguably, a continent, with four free passes in five innings), the Braves didn’t really make good contact off him, especially not with men on base. They scored their first run in the second, as Ozzie Albies drew a leadoff walk, moved to second on a wild pitch, moved to third on a five-hole wild pitch, and eventually scored on a groundout by Orlando Arcia.

That was all the scoring off Gray — the Braves wasted numerous other chances.

  • In the first, Austin Riley and Sean Murphy both walked, and were wild pitched into scoring position, but Eddie Rosario struck out by waving at three straight bounced curves.
  • In the fourth, a single and a walk put two on for Arcia, but he struck out to end the inning.
  • In the fifth, the Braves did nothing with a Harris leadoff single.

After the Nationals went ahead 2-1, Mason Thompson continued flummoxing the Braves. He gave up back-to-back singles with two outs, but Arcia bounced back to him to end the inning. Carl Edwards Jr. allowed just an infield single in the seventh.

But in the eighth, the Braves got the sequencing working against Kyle Finnegan. Sean Murphy hit a ball back up the middle off Finnegan that went for an infield single when Jeimer Candelario couldn’t scoop the ricochet and throw Murphy out. Rosario then rolled a seeing-eye single past Garcia at second and into right field, and ended up at second because Thomas overran the ball. A pop-out by Albies suggested that maybe the Braves’ comeback magic had run out, but not to worry...

...because Marcell Ozuna hit an ugly bouncer to first that ended up scoring pinch-runner Sam Hilliard (who ran for Murphy) when Dom Smith bobbled the ball, only to be followed by Arcia hitting a ball up the middle that was booted by C.J. Abrams at short. Just like that, the Braves had a weird, no-homer, mostly-infield-action two-run inning. Harris grounded out to end the inning.

And then Raisel Iglesias came on, and had a lighting-fast nine-pitch inning. There was a four-pitch strikeout, all strikes. Then a three-pitch strikeout. Then an easy two-pitch groundout to first. Bada bing, bada boom, winning streak at six. The Braves continue to roll, and they did it tonight behind a guy making his first career start, and without their usual offensive M.O.

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