Sanchez hurt early as Braves split crucial series with Nationals

For the second time in four games, the Braves lost a starter after two innings. For the second time in four games, the Nationals made the most of it.

Nick Markakis’ homer gave the Braves an early 1-0 lead with Anibal Sanchez, arguably their best pitcher, on the mound. Sanchez sailed through five outs. It was early, but the Braves had an upper-hand.

Then the baseball gods stepped in: Sanchez was struck in the calf by a Michael Taylor liner. He threw the ball to first for the third out, but was clearly in pain walking slowly to the dugout. That prompted action in the Braves bullpen, and Wes Parsons took over the third inning for his major-league debut.

The Braves ended up losing 6-3, splitting their series at Nationals Park. They’ll wonder what could’ve been different had Sanchez avoided bad luck – taking three of four in Washington would’ve been demoralizing for the group trying to close on them in the National League East and the wild-card race.

It’s still a satisfactory result. They went 5-3 on the road trip, which included taking three of four from the hapless Mets. Parsons came through as an innings-eater, sparing the bullpen before a tough series against the Brewers.

“Sometimes you’ve got to lose the battle to win the war,” first baseman Freddie Freeman said. “I thought what Wes Parsons did was absolutely huge for this ballclub. That’s going to win us ballgames later on with a fresh bullpen.”

Parsons was the MVP of the day. Baseball is a season of patience and pace, especially when you’re in a pennant race, as these Braves are. The bullpen has been overworked at times despite the team shuffling through arms.

So for one player to absorb five frames on short notice was an important occurrence that can easily be overlooked.

“Parsons did exactly what we needed him to do,” manager Brian Snitker said. “He stretched the game, kept it manageable. He gave us a chance.”

A similar fortune unfolded in game one of Tuesday’s doubleheader. Max Fried was hurt trying to avoid a liner, eventually going on the disabled list with a groin strain. Kolby Allard and Shane Carle ate innings that day, with Allard a temporary solution as the 26th man and Carle going on the DL with shoulder inflammation afterward.

The Braves were pounded that afternoon, 8-3. They won the ensuing two to hold their ground against the team 4.5 games behind them, the same deficit Washington faced entering the series.

“In two games, we had two starters go four (total) innings,” Snitker said. “That’s the best you can hope for (out of a bad situation).”

Snitker is optimistic Sanchez will make his next start. The 34-year-old’s calf was still swelling after the game, and there will be more clarity after a day of treatment.

Parsons was charged with four runs over five innings, highlighted by a long blast from Taylor, who homered and unintentionally took out the Braves starter on a day he wasn’t even supposed to play. Bryce Harper was a late scratch with shin soreness after being hit twice in that area recently.

Still, with the Braves’ loaded schedule that includes just three off-days the rest of the way, every day of rest for the bullpen regulars matters. 

“Overall, I think it went pretty well,” Parsons said. “It was a big day. It was nerve-wracking for sure, but it was a lot of fun. It was definitely a dream come true to finally get in a game.”

Adam McCreery followed Parsons, and the pair became the first rookie duo of Braves pitchers to debut in the same game since Jake Brigham and Ryan Kelly in 2015. McCreery allowed two runs on four hits in his only inning.

The bats could’ve bailed the pitching out, especially against Gonzalez, who entered with a 5.04 ERA against the Braves in 22 starts. Gonzalez had allowed at least four runs in five of his past 10 starts, including getting hit for six (five earned) across 3-2/3 innings in his last start against the Reds.

But he was dealing Thursday. Gonzalez scattered six hits across seven innings. Markakis’ homer was the only damage done until Ronald Acuna launched a solo shot in the eighth off Justin Miller. 

There were bizarre moments, from M&M sign debates to injured starters, but the Braves pulled off a winning road trip in two NL East cities. They’ll play their next 11 at SunTrust Park against the Marlins, Brewers and Rockies.

“If you can win road trips, especially when you face (Jacob) deGrom and (Max) Scherzer in the same week, Gio was on, I think everybody would take that,” Freeman said. “Now we just have to play well at home.”

The Braves dropped to a full game behind the Phillies, who were off Thursday before opening a three-game series against the dreadful Padres. The split helped the Braves gain a half-game on Philadelphia, which had dropped two of three in Arizona. The Nationals remain comfortably in third place (5.5 games back).

“For what we went through, leaving here, we’re in a lot better shape than we potentially could’ve been,” Snitker said.

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