MILWAUKEE -- It was meaningful September baseball at Miller Park, complete with the chill in the air.With Miller Park's convertible roof buttoned up and the Cubs already with a win in the books, the Brewers kept pace in the National League Central by riding Neil Walker's first-inning home run and
MILWAUKEE -- It was meaningful September baseball at Miller Park, complete with the chill in the air.
With Miller Park's convertible roof buttoned up and the Cubs already with a win in the books, the Brewers kept pace in the National League Central by riding Neil Walker's first-inning home run and Jimmy Nelson's stellar start to a 1-0 win over the Nationals. By spoiling Nationals starter Tanner Roark's own seven-inning gem, Milwaukee remained 3 1/2 games behind Chicago in a race that hit the home stretch when the calendar flipped on Friday.
The Brewers also moved within 1 1/2 games of the Rockies for the NL's second Wild Card as Colorado lost to Arizona.
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"You hope to get to this point in the season and play games that feel like this," said Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun, who played only the first four innings before he was ejected for arguing balls and strikes. "We're in it. We're in a good place. We feel good about our chances. That game tonight was a playoff-type atmosphere."
After Nelson scattered three singles in seven scoreless innings and matched his career high with 11 strikeouts, Josh Hader and Corey Knebel combined to whiff six and finish the 22nd victory in Brewers history in which their only run scored with a solo homer. The last was also against the Nationals -- Junior Guerra's gem on July 4, 2016, at Nationals Park.
It was Nelson's sixth double-digit strikeout game this season. Chase Anderson has the only other one for Milwaukee.
"I think he had his good stuff going tonight," Washington's Jayson Werth said. "These are big games for them. Not that they're not for us, but I think he was fired up. He's usually pretty good, but I think tonight he had a little something else in the tank for us."
Hader struck out the side in the eighth and Knebel did the same in the ninth, giving the Brewers 17 strikeouts to match their season high.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
One swing does it: Roark matched Nelson pitch for pitch, allowing one run on five hits in seven innings, with one walk and 10 strikeouts. He was burned by one pitch, a hanging curveball to Walker in a 2-1 count in the first, which Walker belted a Statcast-projected 415 feet to right field. It was a slump-busting hit for the Brewers' August pickup; Walker was 2-for-19 in his previous seven games.
Still, the Nationals continue to be encouraged by Roark after another strong outing.
"He's back to form," Washington manager Dusty Baker said. "We would love to score more runs for him, but he was throwing the ball well. He was the Tanner we know now. If he keeps throwing the ball like that, he's going to keep winning a lot of ballgames down the stretch." More >
Nothing doing vs. Nelson: The Nats had early chances against Nelson, who didn't harness his fastball command until the fourth inning. His biggest jam came in the third, when Washington loaded the bases with one out thanks to two walks and a wayward Nelson fastball that hit Ryan Zimmerman on the arm. So Nelson went to his breaking stuff, throwing a slider for a called strikeout against Howie Kendrick and a curveball for a swinging strikeout of Werth to end the threat. Those outs dropped the Nationals to 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position with five strikeouts in the first three innings.
"It's happened to me plenty of times in the past -- enough to learn how to work around it and use your other pitches until you settle in and get that fastball command," Nelson said. "Honestly, that comes from the catcher. [Stephen Vogt] did a great job of realizing that the offspeed stuff was good early."
Denied: Nursing their 1-0 lead, the Brewers were poised to add on when they loaded the bases against Roark with nobody out in the fifth. In the past five years teams score at least one run in that situation about 85 percent of the time, and have averaged 2.3 runs this season in those spots. But not this one, as Roark regained control by inducing Orlando Arcia's tapper in front of home plate for a 2-3 double play, then struck out Nelson to end a scoreless inning.
"Not with these two ballclubs. But tonight was about pitching and defense and getting out of jams. ... You certainly never think that one run's going to do it, but we're into September and you expect the games to be tight." -- Walker, asked whether he expected his first-inning homer to hold up
"Very rarely does it happen. It was a pitchers' duel tonight and they came out on top." -- Roark, on losing a 1-0 game
Braun's night was brief and frustration-filled. He disagreed with two of plate umpire Mark Ripperger's called strikes in the first, including a third strike Braun believed was off the plate. After Braun struck out swinging in the fourth, he had more words for the umpire and was promptly ejected. More >
Nationals: Nationals ace Max Scherzer picked up right where he left off in his first start back from the DL on Monday and will look to continue that roll Saturday at 7:10 p.m. ET against the Brewers. He tossed seven innings of one-run ball with 10 strikeouts to beat the Marlins in his last start, after a neck injury cost him a turn through the rotation.
Brewers: Rookie Brandon Woodruff is back from the Minors to start opposite Scherzer at 6:10 p.m. CT on Saturday. Milwaukee's No. 4 prospect per MLBPipeline.com pitched ably in his first three big league starts, logging a 1.62 ERA, but was sent back to Triple-A Colorado Springs for the final 10 days of August because the Brewers were in a stretch that required only four starting pitchers.
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Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook.
Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.