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Nationals set back by homer-friendly Braves

@jessicacamerato
September 10, 2020

WASHINGTON -- There were three hitless innings by Austin Voth and an early 5-0 lead thanks to his teammates. Then, there was a barrage of home runs from the opposing side. “You score five runs early like that, you should win the ballgame,” manager Dave Martinez said. The Nationals dropped

WASHINGTON -- There were three hitless innings by Austin Voth and an early 5-0 lead thanks to his teammates. Then, there was a barrage of home runs from the opposing side.

“You score five runs early like that, you should win the ballgame,” manager Dave Martinez said.

The Nationals dropped the opener of a four-game series to the Braves, 7-6, on Thursday night at Nationals Park. Four of their seven pitchers -- Voth, Wander Suero, Will Harris and Tanner Rainey -- allowed a homer to Atlanta, including two against the streaking Freddie Freeman.

Box score

That tied the all-time franchise record for most pitchers to surrender a home run in the same game, previously done six times (four by the Nationals, two by the Expos). Washington did it twice last season en route to its World Series championship, on May 17 against the Cubs and July 25 against the Rockies.

“When you’re facing good hitters like that, your pitch execution needs to be spot on,” Martinez said. “You can’t miss. You’re going to pay the price for mistakes, and you saw that tonight.”

Martinez said he had the pitchers that he wanted on the mound late in the game. Even as the Braves chipped away, the Nationals still had a 6-4 lead with two outs the seventh. Martinez described himself as being “this close” to intentionally walking Freeman, but he had confidence in Harris’ cutter. Instead, Freeman rocketed his second home run of the game to even the score at 6-6.

“It just didn’t happen tonight.” Martinez said. “But hey, those guys will be back out there tomorrow. Those guys are our horses. They’ve been throwing the ball really well. We’ll go back tomorrow, hopefully [we’ll get] the lead again in the seventh and you’ll see those guys out there again.”

The Braves didn’t waste any time putting their stamp on the Nats’ loss, which dropped them to 16-26 on the season. The following inning, Rainey allowed the go-ahead shot to Dansby Swanson off what he described as “poor execution” of a 98.3-mph fastball.

“Blowing that lead there, that’s a tough one,” Rainey said. “... It’s been tough the last few games against them, for sure. I think just about any ball they put in the air seems like it just doesn’t stop lately.”

At 32 years old, this Nats rookie made his debut

The Nationals were fresh off a split of a four-game series last weekend in Atlanta, where they allowed 12 homers in the set. The Braves arrived in Washington hours after a monster 29-9 victory over the Marlins in the early hours of Thursday morning. The travel didn’t slow them down; they brought all that momentum into Nats Park.

“These guys can hit,” Martinez said. “They’re hot, and they’re swinging the bats really well. We’ve got to be conscious of the pitches that we make and where we want to make them.”

Doolittle exits game
Home runs come and go -- literally -- but the Nationals could have a longer-lasting pitching concern. Sean Doolittle entered the game in the ninth to try to limit the damage and give the Nats a chance to come back from a one-run deficit. Just two days after finding his groove in a season of struggles by striking out two in a scoreless frame against the Rays, Doolittle called for a trainer and gingerly walked off the field after throwing only three pitches.

Martinez announced after the game Doolittle has a right oblique issue and was being examined by the medical staff.

“I’m concerned,” Martinez said. “That’s a tough one for any athlete.”

It is the latest bump in the road for Doolittle this season. He was placed on the injured list on Aug. 13 because of right knee fatigue after his ERA ballooned to 15.00. The veteran left-hander had worked his way back at the alternate training site in Fredericksburg, Va., and was looking like he was back on track.

Jessica Camerato covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @jessicacamerato, Facebook and Instagram.