WASHINGTON (AP) — Manager Brian Snitker knew Ronald Acuña Jr. and the rest of the Atlanta Braves weren’t going to keep struggling to string hits together — and struggling to win just one game.
Sure enough, with Acuña leading the way with a double and a pair of singles, Atlanta snapped a season-starting four-game losing streak Wednesday by edging the Washington Nationals 7-6 in a doubleheader opener.
The Braves put up five runs in the second inning off Erick Fedde (0-1), then wound up barely holding on with a save by Will Smith a day after he gave up a walk-off hit to Juan Soto in a 6-5 loss to Washington.
“I said this morning to the guys: It would be nice to see you put an inning together. … That was very encouraging,” Snitker said after the Braves avoided their first 0-5 start since 2016. “I knew it was going to happen at some point.”
Smith, Atlanta’s fifth pitcher, didn’t have an easy time of things, though.
Trying to protect a 7-5 lead, the first batter he faced Wednesday was Soto. This time, Soto led off the bottom of the seventh by walking, and Starlin Castro drove him in with a double. Another walk put the winning run on base with one out, but Smith got Andrew Stevenson to ground into a double play to end it.
Even though spectators were present — unlike last season, when they were banned —- there still was fake crowd noise piped in, offering an odd, and annoying, hum of a soundtrack.
With nary a cloud interrupting a crystal blue sky, and a temperature of 75 degrees at first pitch and climbing, the teams combined for 11 runs after merely two innings of the first seven-inning game.
The Nationals batted around in the first against Max Fried and scored four; Trea Turner’s two-run shot, his second homer in two days, was the highlight.
The Braves sent nine men up in the second; Acuña, Fried and Travis d’Arnaud were among those driving in runs.
Fedde only got five outs.
Fried recorded six — he was pulled after the second, when he got hit on the lower left leg by a ball hit by Soto — and was followed by Josh Tomlin (1-0), who threw two hitless innings and was credited with the win.
“I told him he’s the ultimate Swiss Army knife,” Snitker said about Tomlin. “You can use him in any situation.”
Atlanta tacked on an insurance run in the seventh on a wild pitch by Wander Suero.
Washington is missing nine players because of a coronavirus outbreak that led to the postponement of the team’s first four games.
Four players tested positive for COVID-19, and another five who would have been on the 26-man roster are under quarantine because they potentially were exposed to the illness.
Two of the additions from the Nationals’ alternate training site made their MLB debuts in Game 1 Wednesday: Cody Wilson flied out as a pinch-hitter and lefty reliever Sam Clay struck out two in a scoreless inning with Dad on hand.
“Doesn’t matter how many people are in the crowd, I can hear him over everybody,” the 27-year-old Clay said.
In the doubleheader’s second game, 2019 World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg was slated to make his first start for the Nationals since being shut down after just five innings last season because he needed carpal tunnel surgery on his right wrist.
Reliever Huascar Ynoa was starting Game 2 for Atlanta.
Braves: Neither Fried nor Snitker sounded too worried about the lefty’s leg. “Nothing too serious,” the pitcher said.
Nationals: Players under quarantine could rejoin the club on its upcoming six-game road trip, manager Dave Martinez said. “It’s a possibility. It really is,” he said.
Braves: Home opener is Friday against the Phillies, with Charlie Morton starting for Atlanta against Zack Wheeler.
Nationals: Planned to fly to California on Wednesday night; they open a three-game set at the Dodgers on Friday. “It’s been a long week,” Martinez said. “It’s been a long week for all of us.”
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