The Braves won five in a row and created a buzz with their four-game sweep of the San Diego Padres that ended Monday. But the nemesis Nationals arrived Tuesday, and Max Scherzer reminded everyone how he won the National League Cy Young Award a year ago.
Scherzer limited the Braves to two hits in seven scoreless innings of a 3-1 series-opening Nationals win before a crowd of 21,834 at SunTrust Park, snapping the Braves’ five-game winning streak and handing them their first loss in five games at their new ballpark.
“A guy like that you hope you can run his pitch count up and get him out of the game and try the bullpen, because he’s really good,” Braves manager Briank Snitker said. “It’s a tough matchup, but we hung in there and gave ourselves a chance at the end.”
The Braves loaded the bases with one out in the ninth inning and Kurt Suzuki drew a walk against reliever Blake Treinen to bring in a run. After Emilio Bonifacio flied out foul, Chase d’Arnaud struck out with the bases still loaded.
Actually, he struck out twice, since home-plate umpire C.B. Bucknor called a phantom foul tip on a would-be third strike. After the teams began to leave the field and grounds-crew members came on the field with their postgame equipment, the umps convened and sent d’Arnaud back to the plate, where he whiffed on the next pitch to end it.
Trying to move above .500 for the first time since before the 2015 All-Star break, Atlanta slipped to 6-7. The Nationals continued their recent dominance of the Braves, improving to 30-9 against them since the beginning of the 2015 season.
Mike Foltynewicz (0-2) made his second start of the season and nearly lost his cool a couple of times over frustration with Bucknor’s spotty strike zone. But the hard-throwing Braves pitcher settled down after a two-run fifth inning and worked seven innings while allowing five hits, two runs and four walks with three strikeouts.
Freddie Freeman continued to sizzle for the Braves, going 2-for-2 with two singles and two walks including ninth-inning leadoff single. He’s reached base in 10 consecutive plate appearances, the longest such streak for the Braves since Jason Heyward reached base in 10 straight in Aug. 2010. Only Jeff Burroughs (11 in 1978) has a longer streak for Atlanta.
Scherzer (2-1) had three walks and seven strikeouts in seven innings and has won five consecutive starts against the Braves. The Nationals have won all six games he started against Atlanta since the beginning of the 2016 season.
On Monday, the Braves completed a four-game sweep of the San Diego Padres in the first series at their new ballpark. The 4-0 start at SunTrust was the best home start for the Braves since a 5-0 start in 1997 in the first season at Turner Field.
Foltynewicz had pitched only once, in a relief role, in 11 days since his first start of his season-debut start April 7 at Pittsburgh.
The Braves had opportunities after Scherzer issued leadoff walks in both the third and fourth innings, when the game was still scoreless. But after Jace Peterson leadoff walk and a Foltynewicz sacrifice in the third inning, Ender Inciarte popped out foul and Dansby Swanson struck out.
After Freeman drew a leadoff walk in the fourth, Nick Markakis singled and the Braves had their best scoring chance against Scherzer. But with runners on first and second and none out, Brandon Phillips grounded into a force at second – he hustled to avoid a double play – and Adonis Garcia grounded into an inning-ending double play.
“We had one opportunity one inning where we could have gotten something and (Scherzer) shut it down,” Freeman said. “He got even more fired up and he just kept going. When he’s out there throwing 114, 115 pitches and still throwing 95, 96 (mph), it’s going to be a tough game.”
The Braves would pay for those missed opportunities when the Nationals scored twice in the fifth inning.
Foltynewicz didn’t make it out of the fourth inning of his first start at Pittsburgh and was charged with six hits, two runs and three walks in a 5-4 loss. Against the Nationals, he didn’t allow a runner to reach second base until the fourth inning, when Bryce Harper led off with a broken-bat bloop double.
Ryan Zimmerman drew a one-out walk and trouble was brewing. But Braves catcher Kurt Suzuki alertly threw to third base when Harper tried to sneak a stolen base, and Harper was thrown out trying to retreat to second. Foltynewicz then struck out Jayson Werth to get out of the inning unscathed.
The same couldn’t be said for the fifth inning, when Foltynewicz surrendered a leadoff double to Matt Wieters, who advanced to third on a wild pitch. Wilmer Difo singled to drive in the first run of the game, and after a sacrifice bunt by Scherzer, another single from Adam Eaton pushed the Nationals’ lead to 2-0.
Foltynewicz walked the next two batters, but another base-running mistake by Eaton resulted in a caught stealing and “Folty” got out of the inning without further damage.
“I thought all my pitches early and late were around the zone, maybe effectively wild might be the word for it,” Foltynewicz said. “My fastball felt great early and there at the end. I had a stretch where I got a little sped up there and cut a lot of (pitches) off, but other than that I got guys out. Our defense played spectacular behind me.”
Foltynewicz retired the Nationals in order in the sixth and seventh innings and finished with 63 strikes in 106 pitches while matching Julio Teheran and Bartolo Colon for the longest start by a Braves pitcher this season.
“I think last year he would have been five innings and out of the game,” Freeman said. “It’s a credit to Snit for letting him battle through that and build confidence there, get him seven innings. He was close to 110 pitches, he pitched great, just one inning and two runs. He gave us a chance to win.”