ATLANTA (AP) — The way Sean Newcomb started out, it didn’t look like he’d be around very long.
Two straight walks. A double steal. A sacrifice fly.
Just three hitters into the game, Newcomb and the Atlanta Braves were already behind.
“I was angry at myself,” the left-hander said.
But Newcomb composed himself, threw seven strong innings and posted his sixth straight win, leading Atlanta back into first place with a 4-2 victory over the Washington Nationals on Thursday night.
In the start of a four-game series between the top teams in the NL East, the Braves snapped Washington’s six-game winning streak and reclaimed first place by a half-game over the Nationals.
Newcomb (6-1) was roughed up by Washington in his season debut April 2. Since then, he’s 6-0 with a sparkling 2.16 ERA in 10 starts.
But the lefty was coming off a tough outing in Boston, where he lasted only three innings — his shortest start of the season, though he didn’t get a decision in the 8-6 loss.
Manager Brian Snitker was eager to see how Newcomb would bounce back.
Just fine, it turned out.
“This is a huge step in how far he’s come and where he’s going,” Snitker said.
Anthony Rendon drove in in both Washington runs with a sacrifice fly in the first and an RBI single in the third. Newcomb was dominant the rest of the way , retiring 14 of 15 hitters before he was lifted for a pinch hitter after a 1-2-3 seventh. He threw 93 pitches — 61 for strikes.
“He was good, always moving the ball in and out,” Rendon said. “He has a pretty good fastball, pretty sneaky. When he comes inside, you’ve got to respect that. And he’s got a pretty good changeup with the same spin as his four-seamer. Tip your hat to him.”
Rendon, who led off the sixth with a double, was the only Nationals hitter to reach base off Newcomb after the third. He also made a sparkling defensive play at third base to rob Tyler Flowers of a hit, diving to his left to field a hard-hit grounder that took a wicked hop.
The Braves went ahead for good in the bottom of the third off Tanner Roark (2-5), who didn’t get any help from his defense.
Ozzie Albies led off with a popup to short left field that should’ve been an out. But shortstop Trea Turner and left fielder Juan Soto both pulled up, allowing it to drop for a gift single.
Freddie Freeman followed with a double into the right-field corner, giving him a 13-game hitting streak. Bryce Harper’s throw into second short-hopped Turner, an error that allowed Albies to race home after he initially stopped at third.
“You can’t give a good team 28 or 29 outs,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said.
Atlanta tacked on an insurance run in the seventh. With two outs, Ender Inciarte singled to left and came all the way around to score when Albies yanked another double down the right-field line.
Dan Winkler and Arodys Vizcaino finished up for the Braves, each throwing a scoreless inning. Vizcaino earned his 10th save in 12 chances.
The Braves pitcher also picked up an RBI in the second inning, hustling to beat out a potential inning-ending double play with the bases loaded.
Turner was able to flip the ball to second baseman Wilmer Difo for the force. But Difo couldn’t get much on the relay throw and Newcomb beat it out, giving the Braves a 2-1 lead.
“When he beat out that ball, it really helped the cause,” said Preston Tucker, who drove in Atlanta’s first run with a double.
Nationals: RHP Ryan Madson was activated from the disabled list after missing 12 games with a pectoral strain. The 37-year-old reliever decided not to go to the minors for a rehab stint. “He wanted to save his bullets” for big league hitters, Martinez said.
Braves: OF Ronald Acuna Jr. seems to be recovering quickly after injuring his left knee and lower back during a game last Sunday at Boston. The 20-year-old rookie phenom would be eligible to come off the DL on June 8 when Atlanta is on a West Coast road trip, but the Braves will not bring him back until he’s completely healed. “He’ll probably tell you, ‘I can go out there and play right now,'” Snitker said. “But we’re going to be careful to get rid of all the pain, make sure everything is tightened up and solid.”
Nationals: RHP Stephen Strasburg (6-4, 3.13) probably hates to see the calendar change. He went 4-1 with a 2.51 ERA in five May starts, allowing just 26 hits while striking out 40 in 32 1/3 innings.
Braves: RHP Mike Foltynewicz (4-3, 2.55) will be facing Washington for the third time this season. He is 1-1 with a 2.61 ERA in 10 1/3 innings against the Nationals.
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