WASHINGTON -- The Nationals and Braves found themselves in a pitchers' duel on Tuesday night at Nationals Park. When it was over, the Nationals won the game, 2-1, on a double by Bryce Harper, and improved to 5-1, the best start by a D.C.-based team since the 1951 Senators started the season 7-1.
The game was scoreless until the bottom of the eighth inning. With runners on first and second, two outs and Braves left-hander Eric O'Flaherty on the mound, Harper swung at the first pitch and blooped a double down the left-field line, scoring Stephen Drew and Anthony Rendon.
"O'Flaherty is tough," Harper said. "I faced him twice in previous games. He is very good out there, so I was trying to jump on something early, and it worked out."
Nationals manager Dusty Baker wasn't surprised that Harper swung at the first pitch and was able to get the game-winning hit.
"Usually, the best pitch to hit with runners on base or in scoring position is usually the first pitch," Baker said. "I was always taught by Jim Gilliam and some quality hitters -- like Tony Perez -- that that first pitch is usually the best pitch because [the pitcher is] going to try to get ahead of you, and then he's going to work on you.
"[O'Flaherty] didn't want to get behind. He got the pitch up. [Harper] had a pretty good knock. You keep hearing me say about a good idea -- he has a good idea about what he's looking for and what to hit."
The game began with left-hander Gio Gonzalez starting for Washington and right-hander Jhoulys Chacin on the hill for Atlanta, which has lost seven straight games to open this season. Both starters pitched six shutout innings and ended up with a no-decision.
"Losing [stinks], no matter how you lose," Braves catcher Tyler Flowers said. "It's been a tough stretch. I feel like we're playing good ball. We just can't get that big hit or that big out. Or, we come up with some kind of little miscue or something that kind of snowballs an inning on us. We're getting very close. We're all still very positive in here."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Bullpen gets out of trouble: Nationals left-hander Oliver Perez started the eighth inning off by walking the first two batters he faced, Mallex Smith and Nick Markakis. After Perez struck out Freddie Freeman, he was taken out of the game in favor of Blake Treinen. Treinen allowed a bloop single to Adonis Garcia to load the bases, but the right-hander induced Jeff Francoeur to hit into a double play to end the threat.
Baker had nothing but praise for Treinen, who has pitched three games in a row.
"This is why you like that sinkerballer on your staff, because they throw that double-play ground ball," Baker said. "Any time you throw one pitch and get two outs and get out of trouble, that's a very, very valuable man." More >
Impressive debut: After Gordon Beckham doubled with two outs in the seventh, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez made the questionable decision to pinch-hit Jace Peterson for Chacin, who needed just 69 pitches to complete his six scoreless innings. The veteran right-hander notched the most valuable of his eight strikeouts when he got Michael Taylor to swing through a 1-2 fastball to strand runners at second and third base in the fifth. More >
Gio shines on the mound: Gonzalez pitched in his first game since March 27 and didn't skip a beat, throwing six shutout innings while striking out four batters. The Braves had a chance to score in the second, but the lefty battled to keep the game scoreless. Atlanta had runners on first and second with no outs, but Flowers struck out, Beckham flied out to Harper in right field and Chacin popped up to second baseman Daniel Murphy to end the threat.
"I felt locked in. I felt like I didn't miss a beat," Gonzalez said. "I was just working on things. I wanted to pound that strike zone, slowed my mechanics, slowed the game down and was trying to pick up my target as much as possible." More >
Questionable eighth-inning decisions: Instead of bringing in the left-handed-hitting Kelly Johnson to face Treinen with the bases loaded and one out in the eighth, Gonzalez stuck with the righty-swinging Francoeur, who grounded into a double play. After the Nationals put two runners on with two outs in the bottom half of the inning, Gonzalez passed on using closer Arodys Vizcaino and instead brought O'Flaherty in to create the lefty-lefty matchup that Harper won.
"You try to create things, think outside the box and do whatever you have to do to go against the grain to try to win and get something going," Gonzalez said. "Who would have thought Kelly Johnson [against left-hander Felipe Rivero] would have hit a double off the wall [for an RBI in the ninth inning]? That's a favorable matchup for them, you would think. We get a good situation with O'Flaherty against Harper, and he kind of mis-hits it a little bit and gets two runs out of it." More >
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
The Nationals have won 12 straight games over the Braves at Nationals Park. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the 12-game winning streak is the longest home winning streak over one opponent in Nationals history.
Braves:Matt Wisler will take the mound when Atlanta and Washington resume this four-game set on Wednesday at 7:05 p.m. ET. Wisler pitched effectively during Friday's season debut against the Cardinals, but he was hurt by defensive miscues and a seventh-inning solo homer.
Nationals:Stephen Strasburg takes the mound against the Braves on Wednesday at 7:05 p.m. ET at Nationals Park. The right-hander is 3-0 with a 0.53 ERA in three starts against the Braves since June 23.
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