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Herrera passes first test as interim closer in DC

Veteran secures 5-out save; Harper homers to cap stellar all-around performance
MLB.com

WASHINGTON -- Nationals manager Dave Martinez has defended Kelvin Herrera throughout the reliever's struggles since Washington traded for him on June 18. After all, Herrera had spent his entire career in Kansas City and was adjusting to new hitters and ballparks.

With closer Sean Doolittle likely to remain on the disabled list for several more weeks with a stress reaction in his left foot, Herrera has taken over closing duties, the same job he served with the Royals. The right-hander took on that test for the first time in a Nationals jersey on Sunday to seal Washington's 6-2 win over the Braves at Nationals Park, which featured two rain delays.

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WASHINGTON -- Nationals manager Dave Martinez has defended Kelvin Herrera throughout the reliever's struggles since Washington traded for him on June 18. After all, Herrera had spent his entire career in Kansas City and was adjusting to new hitters and ballparks.

With closer Sean Doolittle likely to remain on the disabled list for several more weeks with a stress reaction in his left foot, Herrera has taken over closing duties, the same job he served with the Royals. The right-hander took on that test for the first time in a Nationals jersey on Sunday to seal Washington's 6-2 win over the Braves at Nationals Park, which featured two rain delays.

View Full Game Coverage

Herrera, who's allowed more runs with the Nationals than he had all year with the Royals, completed a five-out save to bolster Washington's banged up bullpen and seal a win for Max Scherzer. The Nationals are six games behind the first-place Phillies in the National League East.

"Oh, it was awesome," Martinez said of Herrera. "After he came out that one inning, no hesitation, he said he was going back out, so he was good."

Video: ATL@WSH: Herrera K's Inciarte, gets out of jam in 8th

While the Nationals' other starters have struggled to throw deep in games, Scherzer helped relieve pressure on the bullpen by going six innings, allowing two runs, eight hits and a walk, with seven strikeouts. The right-hander has pitched past the sixth inning in 19 consecutive starts.

Bryce Harper, who entered Sunday hitting .184 over his past 41 games, also stood out. The T-Mobile Home Run Derby champion homered in the eighth inning to give the Nationals a four-run cushion. It was the capper on an all-around display from the center fielder, who knocked in another run in the sixth, stole a base and threw out Ronald Acuna Jr. at second base with a dart from center in the third inning.

Video: ATL@WSH: Harper crushes a solo homer to center in 8th

"Bryce is slowly but surely becoming the Bryce we all know," Martinez said.

Video: ATL@WSH: Harper throws 94.2 mph for outfield assist

In addition to the runs Harper created, the Nationals scored three times in the first inning and once in the seventh. Anthony Rendon ripped a two-run triple and Juan Soto drove him in with a groundout in the first inning, while Matt Adams scored Soto with a single in the seventh.

Video: ATL@WSH: Rendon smacks a 2-run triple to right field

The Nationals also made the type of crisp defensive plays Martinez has been asking for, executed by Harper, Adam Eaton, Michael A. Taylor, Matt Wieters and Rendon.

"Those are the best type of wins," Scherzer said, "when everybody goes out and plays as a team."

Video: ATL@WSH: Scherzer on Nationals' 6-2 win vs. Braves

Those performances were especially crucial knowing Doolittle couldn't close. After a one-hour, 38-minute rain delay at the end of the sixth inning, the Nationals cycled through three relievers before Herrera, who pitched more than one inning for the first time since September 2016, completed what Martinez knew was coming.

"[Martinez] called down in the eighth and told me about it," Herrera said through a translator. "So I got myself ready and prepared mentally for those two innings."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Nats show pitchers some glove: Freddie Freeman knocked a hard-hit liner to right field in the fifth inning that had a 99 percent hit probability, per Statcast™. Eaton made a running catch to record the inning's second out and prevent Charlie Culberson, who was on first base, from advancing.

Video: ATL@WSH: Eaton makes a running grab near the wall

Then, in the seventh inning, Taylor made a jumping grab at the center-field wall to rob extra bases from Dansby Swanson, who finished with two RBIs. The Nationals substituted Taylor into center field at the beginning of the frame.

"This was a very clean, very good game," Martinez said. "Good defense. Putting Taylor in the game there, I said it before, he's a Gold Glover and he made an unbelievable play."

Video: ATL@WSH: Taylor leaps into wall to make terrific grab

SOUND SMART
Scherzer moved into the top 50 in strikeouts in MLB history with his strikeout of Mike Foltynewicz in the fourth inning. The 33-year-old has 2,338 career strikeouts.

Video: ATL@WSH: Scherzer strikes out 7 across 6 innings

HE SAID IT
"I don't know if he ever was not hot." -- Martinez, when asked if Soto is again heating up at the plate

Video: ATL@WSH: Soto plates Rendon with a groundout to first

MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
After Wieters threw out Culberson attempting to steal with two outs in the fifth inning, Braves manager Brian Snitker immediately signaled to challenge the call. On replay, it appeared that Culberson may have beaten the throw, but the Replay Official could not definitively determine that the runner maintained contact with the base as Turner applied the tag. The call stood and the inning was over.

Video: ATL@WSH: Wieters throws out Culberson, call stands

UP NEXT
The Nationals will begin a three-game series with the Brewers on Monday at 8:10 p.m. ET at Miller Park. Gio Gonzalez, who's recorded a 6.51 ERA without a win over eight outings since the start of June, will start for Washington. Gonzalez's sinker may be one of the factors causing his struggles, as batters are hitting .325 against the pitch. Jhoulys Chacin, whom the Nationals faced twice last season, will counter Gonzalez.

Kyle Melnick is a reporter for MLB.com based in Washington.

Washington Nationals, Bryce Harper, Kelvin Herrera, Max Scherzer