By the time Orlando Arcia launched a two-run homer during the Atlanta Braves’ five-run sixth inning Monday night, the floodgates were wide open. What the Washington Nationals delayed by a day Sunday in Miami had become inevitable.
“Sucks. We all know it sucks, right?” Manager Dave Martinez said of reaching 100 losses. “But we got to remember what we’re trying to do here and it’s going to be a process. So moving forward, hopefully this will be the last year we lose 100 games and we get better.”
Despite improved play recently, Washington still has the major leagues’ worst record, holding a three-game cushion over the Oakland Athletics (56-97). Plenty of losses were expected for these Nationals, who, as Martinez noted, are near the end of their first full season as a rebuilding club — and who found ways to weaken the roster as the year went along.
This group struggled even before Juan Soto and Josh Bell were sent to San Diego at the trade deadline. So not surprisingly, Monday’s outcome — and the steps that led to it — looked similar to many of the Nationals’ losses this season: The starting pitcher struggles. The bats can’t cut into the deficit. The opponent blows the game open late.
Cory Abbott got the start, and his stat line looked much worse than how he performed. The first 13 Braves who came to the plate couldn’t manage a hit, and Abbott only allowed three over five-plus innings — but the first two were home runs.
In the fourth, two batters after Austin Riley was hit by a pitch, the Braves’ Matt Olson smacked the first pitch he saw off the right field foul pole for a 2-0 lead. Leading off the fifth, Marcell Ozuna added a solo shot to left.
Abbott struck out seven, setting up hitters with fastballs up in the strike zone before getting them to chase change-ups and knuckle-curves in the dirt. But the third hit he allowed, a single to Michael Harris II in the sixth, put runners at the corners and ended his night. Andres Machado came out of the bullpen and got ambushed as the Braves pushed across five runs, capped by Arcia’s two-run shot that made it 8-0.
“I was happy until the sixth inning and a couple of bad things didn’t go my way, but better,” Abbott said. “[I’m] focusing on the positives again and being consistent with the pitches. Just got to keep handling that and move forward.”
Braves rookie starter Bryce Elder pitched a shutout, allowing six hits while striking out six. He was efficient as he carved through a Nationals lineup that had an interesting twist: Shortstop CJ Abrams batted second in a move that Martinez wanted to make by season’s end and said Abrams deserved. He went 1 for 4.
The Braves improved to 96-58 and are on pace to surpass 100 wins — with another playoff run on the way and more probably in the future. All the Nationals could do after reaching 100 was grab their bats and walk back to the clubhouse, another loss complete as the end of an arduous season draws near.
“These guys are young,” Martinez said. “They’re playing in the major leagues, so they get tons of experience, tons of coaching. So they can learn a lot, especially with some of these teams that we’re playing now that are heading to the playoffs: Watch, learn, observe — because one day that’s going to be us.”
How did MacKenzie Gore fare in his fourth rehab start? The left-hander had his worst outing, allowing six hits (including three home runs) and six runs over 3⅔ innings while striking out three for Class AAA Rochester. Gore (elbow) had allowed just one run in his previous three rehab starts combined. He was expected to throw five innings but couldn’t get out of the fourth.
The plan since Gore was acquired in the Soto trade was to have him pitch in the majors before season’s end. Only nine games remain, but he could be in line to make his Nationals debut Saturday during a doubleheader against the Philadelphia Phillies. He is expected to throw a bullpen session this week before the Nationals decide on his next steps.
What’s the latest on Patrick Corbin? He threw a light bullpen session Monday to gauge how he felt throwing off a mound after leaving his previous outing in the first inning Tuesday in Atlanta with back spasms. He’ll throw a bullpen session again Wednesday and, if he feels well, could pitch this weekend.