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Braves split with Nats behind Inciarte's heroics

August 7, 2018

WASHINGTON -- A long day that began inauspiciously with concern about starting pitching depth concluded with Sean Newcomb and Ender Inciarte showing why they may prove to be two of the most influential figures in the Braves' bid to remain postseason contenders.Worries created just a few hours before when Max

WASHINGTON -- A long day that began inauspiciously with concern about starting pitching depth concluded with Sean Newcomb and Ender Inciarte showing why they may prove to be two of the most influential figures in the Braves' bid to remain postseason contenders.
Worries created just a few hours before when Max Fried left Game 1 with a left groin strain evaporated as Newcomb went toe-to-toe with Max Scherzer in the second game of Tuesday's doubleheader. He saw his effort rewarded when Inciarte provided the Braves a 3-1 win over the Nationals with a two-run, ninth-inning triple.
"This isn't about Ender," Inciarte said. "It isn't about Freddie [Freeman]. It's about the Atlanta Braves. It will be a really nice thing if we can play some games in October and maybe win some championships because that is what the fans are there for."

These were the selfless words the Braves wanted to hear from their Gold Glove Award-winning center fielder, who has recently been removed from the leadoff spot and learned he will likely not start against left-handers. Inciarte has reaped the benefits as he has hit .352 (19-for-54) since spending a couple extra hours taking batting practice at Nationals Park after a July 21 game was postponed.
"He's swinging the bat really well, which is good to see," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "He's worked hard, persevered and stayed strong mentally. It's good to see how he's performed after battling. It started when we were here a few weeks ago. I was as happy as I could be for him to get that hit today."
It appeared the Braves might be destined for a frustrating day when Fried went down just two innings into the 8-3 loss sustained in the first game. But concerns about the nightcap matchup were addressed as Newcomb allowed Juan Soto's first-inning solo shot and then blanked the Nationals over the remainder of his six-inning effort.

Jesse Biddle aided a thin bullpen as he recorded four strikeouts over 1 2/3 perfect innings, and the Braves took advantage of Kelvin Herrera in the ninth. Freeman and Nick Markakis recorded consecutive singles against the Nationals' current closer. Inciarte then laced a 1-0 changeup down the right-field line and benefited from a carom that allowed Markakis to score an insurance run from first base.
This was the kind of production the Braves received routinely from Inciarte when he produced his first 200-hit season last year. But as he batted just .206 over a 49-game stretch from May 20-July 20, he became a hole within Atlanta's lineup.
"It's been a different year for me because I've struggled," Inciarte said. "But everybody at some point is going to struggle. I've got to let myself struggle to learn something and get better because if I don't go through this now, maybe it will be in a tougher time. I don't know how I'll finish, but I'm going to try to finish as strong as I can."
These past couple weeks have also been mentally trying for Newcomb, who was making his first appearance since throwing a career-high 134 pitches when he came one strike away from no-hitting the Dodgers on July 29. The euphoria of that outing was gone immediately after that game when he learned somebody had found insensitive tweets he had posted while a high school senior.
Having expressed remorse and dealt with the consequences, Newcomb will now attempt to build off this strong outing, which was highlighted when he pitched around Michael A. Taylor's leadoff double by getting Soto to look at a 3-2 slider to end the fifth.

Because of a rainout and the desire to have Julio Teheran face the Mets instead of the Nationals, the Braves gave Newcomb three extra days of rest entering this outing.
"I'm not really focused on anything but doing my job and trying to be a good role model for other people," Newcomb said. "I"m just sticking to what I have to do at the field each day."
After gaining the two-run lead in the ninth, the Braves experienced some ninth-inning drama when Ryan Zimmerman capped his three-hit night with a double and Taylor was hit by a pitch with one out. Braves closer A.J. Minter and his teammates breathed a sigh of relief when Matt Wieters laced a 105.8 mph liner that third baseman Johan Camargo gloved before throwing to second to double up Zimmerman and end the game.
"You don't want to know," Snitker said when asked what his reaction was. "I'm just glad Camargo was where he was."

Before throwing three scoreless innings against the Nationals on June 2, the left-handed Biddle had reverse splits. Right-handed hitters had batted .100 (4-for-40) with 11 strikeouts and four walks against him. Left-handed batters had hit .478 (11-for-23) with five strikeouts and three walks.
Dating back to that June 2 appearance, right-handers have hit .167 (9-for-54) with 16 strikeouts and eight walks against the valuable southpaw. Left-handers have batted .128 (5-for-39) with 14 strikeouts and four walks.
"It's huge for us to split today after a tough loss in the first one. Scherzer is a great pitcher. He's going to do that every night. We battled, stayed in there, and Ender came up big for us." -- Charlie Culberson, who homered in the ninth inning of the first game and added a sixth-inning solo shot that accounted for the only run Scherzer allowed over seven innings in the nightcap.

Mike Foltynewicz (8-7, 3.04 ERA) will take the mound when the Braves and Nationals resume their four-game series at Nationals Park on Wednesday night. Foltynewicz had allowed at least four earned runs in four straight starts before limiting the Mets to two runs over six innings his last time out. Washington will counter with Tommy Milone (1-0, 3.00), who has pitched effectively in his two starts since filling the injured Stephen Strasburg's rotation spot. First pitch is 7:05 p.m. ET.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for since 2001.