Stephen Strasburg delivered his best start of the season and Daniel Murphy homered off an effective Jaime Garcia as the Nationals snapped their longest losing streak of the season (4 games) with Sunday afternoon’s 3-2 win over the Braves at SunTrust Park.
Strasburg notched a season-high 11 strikeouts and surrendered two runs over 7 2/3 innings while helping the Nationals avoid being swept by the Braves, who lost for just the third time in their past 10 games.
“Well, we needed every bit of it,” Nats manager Dusty Baker said. “He was very sharp. All his pitches were sharp. He threw a bunch of strikes, and they played us tough. Every game here was tough. It’s never easy.”
Murphy provided early support as he opened the second inning by drilling a low 2-0 fastball over the right-field wall. Washington added two more unearned runs during a two-run third inning fueled by Nick Markakis’ inability to secure Trea Turner’s fly ball.
Murphy’s ninth homer of the season stood as one of the few blemishes on the line produced by Garcia, who allowed three runs — one earned — and seven hits while not issuing a walk over eight innings. The left-hander entered having issued 14 walks over his past three starts. His only support came courtesy of Dansby Swanson’s two-run double in the eighth inning.
“I just missed with the sinker on the first pitch and threw a four-seamer trying to get back into the count,” Garcia said of the Murphy home run. “He put a good swing on it, and I am not trying to take anything away from him. I didn’t execute, and I paid the consequences. I knew I had to still make pitches after that.”
Markakis dropped Turner’s relatively routine fly ball near the right-field warning track to begin the third, and Garcia bobbled the Wilmer Difo grounder that followed. This set the stage for the Nationals to extend their lead to 3-0 with Bryce Harper’s RBI single and Ryan Zimmerman’s double-play groundout that scored Difo.
“This shows you one play makes the difference in the game,” Markakis said. “I should have caught that ball. It tipped off my glove, and they scored a couple runs right there. There’s no excuses there. That ball should have been caught.”
Swanson’s perseverance: After seeing just 10 pitches while striking out in each of his first three plate appearances, Swanson provided a glimpse of his determination and confidence when he looked at a low 2-2 curveball that just missed the outside corner.
“I was just emptying the tank. I knew the situation, and I made a good pitch there but didn’t get the call,” Strasburg said. “Oh, well. So you got to go out there and make the next pitch.”
The rookie shortstop then fouled consecutive heaters before drilling a 97.6 mph fastball off the right-field wall for the two-run double that ended Strasburg’s 118-pitch effort.
“Strasburg had been unbelievable all day,” Swanson said. “You look up and he’s thrown like 85 percent strikes, and you look at how many balls were put in play and it was very, very limited. He mixed up his pitches well and put them where he wanted. When a guy has that good of stuff and that good of command, you’ve just got to grind out at-bats. Luckily, I was able to come through and get us a little closer.”
Baker added: “[Swanson] was tough this series. He was probably the toughest .201 hitter in the league.”
Mike Foltynewicz will take the mound when Atlanta hosts Pittsburgh in the opener of a four-game set on Monday at 6:35 p.m. CT. Foltynewicz has allowed fewer than two earned runs in three of his past five starts.