Of John Gant’s seven major league starts, the one Friday night against the Nationals was his worst and briefest.
That didn’t bode well for the Braves, who found themselves down 5-0 against Nationals ace Max Scherzer before even coming to bat in the second inning.
Ryan Weber and a few other Braves relievers did good work after Gant was knocked out of the game in the second, but the damage was done and Nationals cruised to a 7-2 win in a series opener at Turner Field to continue their unmitigated recent domination of the Braves.
Washington has won 15 of 17 games against the Braves in 2016 and are 29-7 against them the beginning of last season.
Staked to that big lead, Scherzer (17-7) rolled to his fourth straight win in five starts against the Braves this season, allowing two runs, seven hits and two walks with eight strikeouts in seven innings. The Braves have come back from plenty of deficits lately, but down five against Scherzer….
“That asking a lot,” said interim manager Brian Snitker, whose Braves have scored 50 runs in their past 10 games, but gone 2-8 with a 6.20 ERA in that stretch. “(Scherzer) is one of those guys that knows what he’s doing. When he gets in trouble, that velocity spikes and it’s tough. You kind of want to stay even with a guy like that and give yourself a chance. He gets a lead like that, he’s really good.”
The Braves got three doubles against Scherzer, but two came with two outs and nobody on, and he retired the next batter in each case. Their two runs came in the only two innings when the Braves’ first batter reached base: Matt Kemp led off the second inning with a double – the 1,500th hit of his career – and scored on Tyler Flowers’ single, and Nick Markakis led off the sixth with a walk, advanced on a Kemp single and scored on Flowers’ sacrifice fly.
Gant (1-4) had as many runs allowed as outs recorded, giving up six hits, five runs and three walks with no strikeouts in 1 2/3 innings. Two of hits against him were by new Braves nemesis Trea Turner, who had a leadoff single and scored in the two-run first inning and hit a two-run homer off Gant with two out in the second inning.
Turner had four hits – his eighth multi-hit game in 11 starts against the Braves this season – to make him 28-for-64 (.438) with 11 extra-base hits (six homers) in his career against the Braves, including 24-for-52 (.462) with 10 extra-base hits, 14 RBIs and an OPS over 1.200 in 11 games this season.
“We can’t solve him, that’s for sure,” Snitker said. “He’s energetic … he’s making them go.”
Gant faced three more batters after Turner in the second inning and surrendered a single, Daniel Murphy RBI double and intentional walk to Bryce Harper before giving way to Weber, who hit a batter to load the bases and then retired eight in a row.
Weber gave up only two hits and one run in 4 2/3 innings and had five consecutive strikeouts beginning with the third out of the third inning. The undersized rookie struck out Turner, Jayson Werth and Murphy in order in the fourth.
“He did an excellent job coming in,” Kemp said. “He did his job, shut the Nats down, we just couldn’t get any more runs after that.”
The Braves had allowed at least five earned runs in eight of their past nine games, including seven or more earned runs in five games. They did that again Friday, giving up five earned runs before the end of the second inning, and this time they were facing Scherzer. Not a good proposition for a comeback.
“We had opportunities to score runs, we just didn’t do it tonight,” said Kemp, who had two of the Braves’ nine hits and also made the best defensive play he’s had since coming to Atlanta, laying out for a diving catch in the left-center gap.