By BEN NUCKOLS
WASHINGTON (AP) — With Ronald Acuña Jr., Freddie Freeman and Marcell Ozuna as the top three hitters in his lineup, Braves manager Brian Snitker knows an early five-run deficit is hardly insurmountable.
Freeman homered twice, Dansby Swanson hit a go-ahead shot in the eighth inning and NL East-leading Atlanta climbed out of a 5-0 hole to beat the Washington Nationals 7-6 on Thursday night.
“That’s a rough three guys to start out and go through. To have to go through them three, four times, that’s tough duty for a pitcher,” Snitker said. “With 27 outs, we’re going to put some runs on the board.”
Freeman tied the game at 6 in the seventh with a 443-foot, two-run drive to right-center off Will Harris. After a scary bout with COVID-19 during the Braves’ summer camp, Freeman is among the major league leaders in OPS. He has five homers and 20 RBIs in his past seven games.
“It’s the absolute model of consistency and sometimes consistency can be taken for granted,” Swanson said. “You get the same out of him every day, every season, no matter if he’s hurt or not hurt, dealt with the sickness stuff at the beginning of this year. It’s the same every year. … He really does help us tick.”
Swanson’s solo shot off Tanner Rainey (1-1) gave the Braves their first lead.
Chris Martin (1-1) worked a scoreless seventh, Shane Greene retired the side in the eighth and Mark Melancon pitched the ninth for his ninth save in 10 chances.
“I would say this is our best win (of the season), to be honest,” Freeman said, noting the team didn’t arrive in Washington until after 4 a.m. Thursday. “That bullpen, man, it’s pretty impressive to watch them every single day.”
Acuña also hit a two-run homer for the Braves, who weathered another ineffective outing from their makeshift rotation. Spot starter Robbie Erlin got five outs and allowed five extra-base hits. The final insult was Adam Eaton’s two-run homer to the second deck in right-center.
“We thought we could jump on them early, and they might quit, but they didn’t. They kept battling back,” Eaton said. “They’re a good team.”
A night earlier, Atlanta starter Tommy Milone allowed eight runs in 3 1/3 innings against Miami, but the Braves set a National League record for runs since 1900 and won 29-9.
Juan Soto reached base four times for the last-place Nationals, who were coming off a two-game sweep of Tampa Bay. A year after winning the World Series, Washington is clinging to faint hopes of sneaking into the expanded playoff field.
Trea Turner had an RBI triple, Soto a run-scoring double and Asdrúbal Cabrera an RBI triple in the first.
Huascar Ynoa relieved Erlin and gave the Braves’ dangerous offense a chance to claw back. Freeman went deep in the fourth inning after Acuña’s leadoff walk. In the fifth, Acuña lofted reliever Wander Suero’s first pitch over the wall in right.
“When you hit second, the way we’ve been swinging it, it feels like I’ve been getting up every inning. We’re all clicking right now, so I don’t think it matters where any of us is hitting right now,” Freeman said. “Hitting second is pretty much hitting fourth or fifth in this lineup. You’re going to get plenty of run-producing situations.”
Austin Voth retired the first nine Atlanta batters but only got through the lineup one more time. He was lifted with one out in the fifth after he hit Tyler Flowers on the left arm with a pitch. Voth allowed three runs and two hits with two walks and four strikeouts.
“They’re hitting our mistake pitches and that’s never what you want right now,” Voth said. “They just, they’re in a zone.”
CLEMENTE DAY 2
Because the Nationals were off Wednesday as Roberto Clemente was honored around baseball, manager Dave Martinez and his coaches wore Clemente’s No. 21 on Thursday.
“He’s my idol. What he represents is unity,” Martinez said. “He means a lot to not only the Latin community but the baseball community, not only as a player but as a humanitarian.”
Braves: Flowers was removed in the sixth as a precaution after the catcher was hit by Voth’s pitch. Travis d’Arnaud replaced him. … LHP Cole Hamels (triceps tendinitis), who has yet to pitch this season, was expected to throw at the team’s alternate training site and could rejoin the rotation as early as next week, Snitker said.
Nationals: LHP Sean Doolittle walked gingerly off the mound with a right oblique injury after getting one out in the ninth. … Soto, who rejoined the lineup Tuesday after missing five games with a sore left elbow, is being limited to designated hitter. “We don’t know when Juan can throw again,” Martinez said.
Braves: RHP Josh Tomlin (2-2, 3.77 ERA) makes his fifth start since being moved from the bullpen as the four-game series continues Friday. He allowed one run over six innings in a 10-3 win against the Nationals last Sunday.
Nationals: RHP Erick Fedde (1-3, 5.29) allowed four runs in 3 2/3 innings against the Braves last Saturday.
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