Resilient Nationals gain split with Braves

Resilient Nationals gain split with Braves

WASHINGTON -- Given how stressful the late innings have been for them this season, it was only fitting for the Nationals to enter the All-Star break having to feel relieved to have survived the bullpen battle waged during Sunday afternoon's 10-5 win over the Braves at Nationals Park.

"These guys, they gave us every drop of energy that they had," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. "I asked them to play through the break and not to the break. They didn't quit at the end. Everybody's chipped in, so I know it's corny, but it's a real team effort, it really was."

Nats starter Joe Ross surrendered a game-tying, three-run homer to Freddie Freeman in the third inning and then exited in the fourth inning, as his average fastball velocity dropped to 87.1 mph and Baker said he dealt with triceps tenderness. The Braves were placed in a similar bind, as rookie starter Sean Newcomb endured a 39-pitch first inning and ended up needing 97 pitches to complete four innings -- which were blemished by four runs and four walks.

Ross exits the game early

"His stuff was good today," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "He was a pitch away here or there. The stuff is good, and I like what I see. He's a young kid who is learning. He got in trouble and minimized damage a couple times today. The walks were an issue, but the stuff was really good. You just want to keep running him out there because it's definitely good and he'll learn."

On their way to securing a four-game split in this series that began with a three-hour-plus delay that included no rain, the Nationals gained a much-needed two-run single from Matt Wieters off Ian Krol in the fifth inning. Braves infielder Johan Camargo highlighted his three-hit performance with his first career homer, a sixth-inning leadoff shot that accounted for the only earned run Washington's much-maligned bullpen allowed over 5 2/3 innings.

Camargo's first career home run

"Everyone in this bullpen is capable of doing it," Matt Grace said. "It's just a matter at some point -- it could be two months down the line -- we're going to need to be relied upon. So it's just a matter of doing it."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Walks kill: The command issues Newcomb avoided through his first five starts plagued him immediately, as he issued consecutive walks to open the three-run first -- which was capped by Anthony Rendon's two-run double. The young southpaw cruised through the next two innings, but opened the fourth by issuing consecutive walks ahead of the RBI double Chris Heisey planted against the left-center-field wall.

Rendon's two-run double

"In the first inning, I just had a tough time getting it going, as far as getting in the zone," Newcomb said. "I was near it, but not good enough. If I could have just made that one last pitch to Rendon, I think it would have gone much different. I felt a little better after that."

Limiting damage: After allowing Camargo to open the sixth with a homer that traveled a projected 422 feet per Statcast™, Matt Grace surrendered a Freeman single that Bryce Harper allowed to get behind him in right field. Freeman reached third with no outs, but after allowing Nick Markakis' RBI groundout, Grace retired Matt Adams and Tyler Flowers to avoid further damage.

Freeman cuts Nats' lead to one

"I just got into that situation where I needed to make pitches and kind of step up right there and bridge that gap to the later innings of the game," Grace said about entering for Ross in the fourth inning. "Just kind of take the approach of just [needing] to attack guys and try to keep the ball down and get some ground balls and just keep us in that game."

QUOTABLE
"It was a good first half. The record could have been better. We shot ourselves in the foot a few games. I think, realistically, we could have been over .500 in this first half." -- Snitker, on the Braves entering the break with a 42-45 record, a 12-game improvement from 2016

"He should be the starting third baseman for the National League this year. Definitely nothing against Nolan Arenado or anybody else that's there, but that guy has had an unbelievable first half. He's kept us in ballgames, had innings to win ballgames, played a great third base, and just done everything all around for us. I know he's excited to go back to Houston and get some rest, of course. But he should be down in Florida with us. It's definitely a bummer, but he'll get his chance. -- Harper, on Rendon, who reached base in four of his five plate appearances on Sunday More >

QUICK CHANGE
Braves reliever Jason Motte strained his back just before he was slated to exit the bullpen and begin the bottom of the seventh. Motte is hopeful a few days of rest will allow him to avoid a disabled-list stint after the All-Star break.

WHAT'S NEXT
Braves: Ender Inciarte will represent Atlanta in Tuesday night's All-Star Game. R.A. Dickey will take the mound when the Braves return to SunTrust Park to begin the second half against the D-backs on Friday at 7:35 p.m. ET.

Nationals: Five players will participate in the All-Star Game on Tuesday before the Nationals begin a four-game series against the Reds at Great American Ball Park on Friday at 7:10 p.m. ET. Washington won two of three games when it faced Cincinnati in June, but the Reds were without All-Star shortstop Zack Cozart.

Watch every out-of-market regular-season game live on MLB.TV.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.

Kyle Melnick is a reporter for MLB.com based in Washington, who covered the Nationals on Sunday.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.