ATLANTA — For at least one night, the Braves were able to make up for the loss of their top hitter and use strong relief pitching to beat the NL East-leading Nationals.
Nick Markakis hit a go-ahead single in the eighth inning and Kurt Suzuki added a two-run homer to give Atlanta a 7-4 win over Washington on Friday night.
Markakis has taken the No. 3 spot in Atlanta’s lineup that was left vacant when Freddie Freeman was sidelined for about 10 weeks with a fractured left wrist.
“The loss of Freddie, that’s going to sting,” Suzuki said. “That’s going to sting for a while. I don’t know if it’s ever going to go away. … But it’s our job to go out there and win ballgames and keep ourselves in a good spot.”
Four Braves relievers combined to throw 3 2/3 perfect innings.
It was a stark contrast to Washington’s ongoing relief woes. Shawn Kelley escaped a bases-loaded jam in the seventh before the Braves scored three runs off left-hander Enny Romero (2-2) in the eighth.
“The bullpen is getting roughed up,” Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. “Right now, we’re kind of limping. . We need some help, period. But who is going to give you some help?”
With one out in the eighth, Romero walked Brandon Phillips, who then stole second base. Markakis lined a single and Phillips scored on a head-first slide as right fielder Bryce Harper’s throw skipped past Matt Wieters.
“The key was walking Brandon Phillips,” Baker said. “Markakis hits lefties well. (Romero) couldn’t get his secondary pitches over and they could sit on the fastball.”
Romero’s ERA rose to 5.75 — still better than Kelley’s 6.08.
Suzuki drove in three runs on two hits, including an RBI double off Gio Gonzalez in the fifth for a 4-all tie.
Arodys Vizcaino (2-1) recorded three straight outs, two on strikeouts, in the eighth. Jim Johnson pitched a perfect ninth for his seventh save. Jason Motte and Jose Ramirez combined for 1 2/3 perfect innings.
“Those guys did a great job, all of them,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said.
Dansby Swanson hit a two-run homer off Gonzalez in the second. Jace Peterson, making only his second career start at first base, missed Harper’s grounder in the third for a fielding error that allowed two runs to score, giving the Nationals a 3-2 lead. Trea Turner had a run-scoring single earlier in the inning.
Atlanta’s Matt Kemp hit his seventh homer in the third. Washington’s Daniel Murphy led off the fourth with his eighth homer off R.A. Dickey.
Gonzalez gave up four runs on nine hits and three walks in 5 2/3 innings. Dickey allowed four runs, two earned, on eight hits and three walks in 5 1/3 innings.
Nationals: RHP Max Scherzer pointed to his left knee and said, “It’s unbelievable, I don’t even have a mark” after a line drive hit by Philadelphia’s Michael Saunders hit him in Sunday’s game. Scherzer fell to the ground, but recovered to last two more innings and is set to start the second game of the series on Saturday.
Braves: Snitker said he would be “real surprised” if 3B Adonis Garcia (left Achilles tendon tendinitis) doesn’t come off the 10-day DL when eligible next week.
Ender Inciarte stole second base in the second even though Murphy caught a strong throw from Wieters and was waiting for Inciarte’s slide. Inciarte slid into the glove, knocking it off Murphy’s hand, and the ball remained in the glove on the ground.
Murphy picked up the glove and showed it to second base umpire David Rackley, who still called Inciarte safe.
Snitker said veteran first baseman James Loney, signed to a minor league contract on Thursday, could be called up after only a few games at Triple-A Gwinnett.
Nationals: Scherzer (4-2) is 5-0 with a 3.12 ERA in six starts against the Braves since the start of 2016. The Nationals are 6-0 in those starts.
Braves: RHP Bartolo Colon (2-4), who has allowed five or more earned runs in four of eight starts, will take an ugly 6.80 ERA into the game against Washington.
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