Braves capitalize as Teheran settles in to top Nats
Righty gives up early homer, but nothing more as bats get to Strasburg
WASHINGTON -- Remember when the Braves entered this season with concerns about their injury-depleted starting rotation, and then created further reason to worry when they squandered Julio Teheran's Opening Day start by providing no offensive support?
Well, five days later, that suspect starting rotation stands as one of the primary reasons the Braves have constructed a four-game winning streak and, in the process, extended their dominance of the Nationals.
Teheran received more than enough offensive support, and Stephen Strasburg made yet another early exit as the Braves produced a four-run fifth inning that propelled them to Saturday night's 6-2 win over the Nationals at Nationals Park.
"It's a great start to the season," Braves second baseman Dan Uggla said. "We're still waiting to explode offensively. But we've proven last year, and years past, what kind of players we are. Our pitching and our bullpen has been great. We've been getting enough done."
Instead of relying on the pitching staff, a Braves offense that had scored two runs or fewer in three of the previous four games started to show its potential. Uggla delivered the decisive two-run single, and B.J. Upton halted his early funk with a two-hit performance that was matched by Teheran.
While he was proud of his two singles, including one that tied the game in the fourth inning, Teheran had even more reason to savor the determined effort he provided while totaling 111 pitches over seven innings. Despite struggling to command his slider, he surrendered three hits and limited his damage to the monstrous two-run home run Adam LaRoche hit in the first inning.
"I know I threw a lot of pitches," Teheran said. "Even though I didn't have my best, I tried to do my best."
With victories in the first two games of this weekend's three-game set, the Braves have won 15 of the 21 games played against the Nationals dating back to the beginning of the 2013 season. Teheran has been credited with three of those victories, and Strasburg has lasted fewer than five innings in three of his past four starts against Atlanta.
"Last year's over," Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper said. "Close the book as best you can. They're a great team, great organization, and sometimes you've got to tip your cap."
The Braves' starting rotation has allowed just five earned runs while working 31 2/3 innings during this season's first five games. As the oft-funny baseball gods would have it, Teheran has been charged with four of those five runs.
Teheran's command was shaky as he completed a 20-pitch first inning, during which LaRoche drilled his two-run home run into the third deck above the right-field wall. Teheran seemed to right himself during a five-pitch third inning, and then wiggled out of trouble in the fifth and sixth innings.
Strasburg stranded a pair of runners in two of the first three innings, and then seemingly came unglued after third baseman Ryan Zimmerman made an errant throw after fielding Andrelton Simmons' two-out grounder in the fourth inning. When Zimmerman's throw bounced into the stands beyond the first-base bag, Justin Upton scored and Simmons moved into position to score on the first of Teheran's two singles.
Teheran's game-tying single in the fourth inning served as a spark for the Braves, who added four consecutive hits after Freddie Freeman drew a one-out walk in the fifth inning. Uggla laced a go-ahead two-run single to left field, and Ryan Doumit followed with an RBI single that chased Strasburg, who allowed six runs -- three earned -- and eight hits in just 4 1/3 innings.
Strasburg has completed fewer than five innings in 13 of his 77 career starts. Five of those have come against the Braves. Still, the highly regarded right-hander has a 3.85 career ERA in 13 career starts against Atlanta.
"We haven't really been lighting it up offensively," Uggla said. "We've been doing enough to win games. But we haven't really been lighting it up. So it was nice to get some hits with guys on base and in scoring position."
B.J. Upton had recorded one hit and struck out 10 times in the 17 at-bats that preceded a two-out double he hit down the left-field line in the third inning. Along with boosting his confidence with a couple of hits, he also ended the fifth inning by showing off his rocket arm with a pinpoint throw that denied Jose Lobaton's attempt to tag and score on Harper's flyout.
"Any time you can keep runs off the board, it's a good thing," B.J. Upton said. "But definitely in that situation, when you can get some momentum and keep your team in the game, it definitely felt good."
Like in the fifth inning, the Nationals put two on before recording the first out in the sixth inning. But Teheran showed his mettle yet again by retiring Danny Espinosa, Ian Desmond and Anthony Rendon to end the sixth. It was reminiscent of what he did last season, when opponents hit just .217 against him with runners in scoring position.
"He's resilient," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "I don't worry about him anymore. When he gets his back against the wall, he seems to raise his game a little bit."