ATLANTA -- One of the most consistent messages from manager Dave Martinez all season has been the desire for the Nationals to accept their walks. With a lineup this deep and talented, he wants to limit the number of times they chase pitches out of the zone, knowing if opposing teams put a runner on base, there is someone behind them to pick up the slack.
The Nationals did just that Saturday afternoon against the Braves, drawing a club-record 14 walks en route to a 7-1 victory at SunTrust Park to snap Atlanta's six-game winning streak. Seven of the Nats' eight position players drew at least one walk as Bryce Harper and Juan Soto led the way with three walks each.
"We talk about that all the time, take our walks," Martinez said. "We're pretty good when we take our walks. It seems like when we do that we're able to put the ball in play really hard. And they did that."
It led to a Nationals victory despite losing starter Jeremy Hellickson to a right wrist injury after just three innings because Jefry Rodriguez stepped up from the bullpen to toss 4 2/3 hitless innings. Meanwhile, the Nats' offense took advantage of some shaky command from Julio Teheran, who issued six walks in four innings, and Touki Toussaint, who walked four in one inning.
"In every at-bat you're going to grind," Soto said. "The starter and reliever were a little bit wild, so you see the at-bats of my teammates and my at-bats were pretty good."
Hellickson, making his first start after missing a month with a sprained wrist, re-injured his wrist at the plate during his at-bat in the fourth inning. After swinging through a slider from Teheran, he immediately headed toward the dugout, complaining of the same pain that sidelined him before. Hellickson will receive an MRI in Washington, D.C., next week, but he was aware that his season is almost certainly over.
"It's definitely really frustrating," he said. "All three of these injuries have been pretty frustrating. All three out of my control. I love taking the ball every fifth day and competing and just going out there with these guys."
Hellickson was replaced on the mound by Rodriguez, who had been moved to the bullpen last week in an effort to limit his innings. And Rodriguez was impressive again Saturday, limiting the Braves to just three walks in a scoreless outing and even collecting an RBI single of his own.
Injuries to the starting rotation have given the Nats the chance to receive an extended look at Rodriguez in the Majors this year and his last few outings should give him a chance to compete in Spring Training for a spot on the roster.
"He's definitely earned the right to be there and get a close look at him and see what happens," Martinez said. "He's young. He's working on different things. We'd like to see his curveball and changeup be more consistent, but he's got a good one. ... I'm really proud of from the first time I saw him to where he is now, that he's really really jumped as far as mentally, maturity, and learning how to pitch up here."
Soto became the youngest player and first teenager in MLB history with three stolen bases in a single game.
HE SAID IT
"Barry Bonds." -- Wilmer Difo, on what kind of player Soto could be if he can add stealing bases to his game
The two leading candidates for the National League Rookie of the Year Award will match up for the final time this year when the Nats wrap up their season series with the Braves on Sunday afternoon. The skills of both Washington's Soto and Atlanta's Ronald Acuna Jr. have been on display in the first two games of this three-game set as they trade blows in the race for the award. Tanner Roark will start for the Nats against Sean Newcomb of the Braves; first pitch is at 1:35 p.m. ET.