Braves beat rookie Jake Irvin and the Nationals

If the Washington Nationals were in a pennant race, manager Dave Martinez might not have been too excited to see his rookie starter face the overloaded Atlanta Braves on Thursday. But with his team not in a pennant race — and with the Nationals officially eliminated from postseason contention this week — Martinez was curious to see how Jake Irvin would fit into the Braves’ lineup.

Irvin’s first nine batters? Not too bad, although he struggled with command issues and left two runners he ran in the second round.

But the next nine? Quite the opposite. The Braves scored five runs to win 10-3 at Nationals Park. Irvin threw 80 pitches and didn’t make it out of that inning. The win gave Atlanta a 30½ game lead over the Nationals (68-86) in the NL East.

“Sometimes I just fight against myself,” said Irvin, who hit both his curve and sinker hard in the third. “It’s just hard to compete against a lineup like that when you’re not feeling 100 percent. That’s up to me. I have to get better.”

Svrluga: Welcome to Nationals Park. This now applies to you too, Commander.

A few cursory stats to explain Atlanta’s offensive dominance: The Braves (98-55) entered the night with a .500 slugging percentage, a 32-point lead over the next closest team in the majors. Seven of their nine starters had an OPS of at least .900 on Thursday. Ronald Acuña Jr., a leading candidate for MVP, had an OPS of 1.009 (and is one homer away from the fifth 40-homer, 40-steal season in history).

The Nationals, on the other hand, have no players with an OPS of .900 or higher. The lowest mark for Atlanta’s starter – Orlando Arcia’s .745 – would have been the third-best mark for Washington when the four-game series began.

So, yeah, Irvin had his hands full. And in the third over, as he battled every batsman through his second match, that was clear and obvious.

At the top of the Braves’ line, Acuña struck out three times before the Nationals’ seventh, eighth and ninth batters struck out once. Acuña also started the rally in the third inning, hitting a triple down the left field line. Had Alex Call read the wall correctly, he might have limited Acuña to a double. But five of the next six Braves struck out, negating Call’s misplay. Those hits included an RBI double for Ozzie Albies – capping an 11-pitch outing – an RBI single for Austin Riley, an RBI double for Michael Harris II and an RBI single for Travis d’Arnaud. At this point, Andrés Machado was warming up in the bullpen.

“You have to attack. “You can’t fall behind,” Martinez said. “Jake just fell behind a lot of good hitters. And when you fall behind, you have to give them good throws to hit. That’s exactly what happened tonight.”

On Harris’ double, Call collapsed right when he should have sprinted back upon contact. His performances have generally been good this season, when he usually played center field, but he started at left guard on Thursday because the Nationals were facing left-hander Max Fried. In the third, Call scored Washington’s first hit, a solo home run to left. However, Fried otherwise shut out the Nationals for six innings. He struck out just three times, struck out seven and walked one.

Last time: The Nats break out of the hitting funk and crush the White Sox to capture the series

The Braves, meanwhile, finished the game with 18 hits from Irvin (seven), Machado (one), Jose A. Ferrer (two) and Cory Abbott (eight in 4⅔ innings). With eight strikeouts, Abbott set a Nationals record for a reliever in one appearance. He threw 58 hits in 71 pitches of opener work. Matt Olson extended Atlanta’s lead with a solo shot past Abbott in the eighth. Albies topped it off with a two-run home run against Abbott in the ninth.

Washington rallied in the ninth, scoring two runs off reliever Jackson Stephens. But that would only reduce a large deficit and do little to hide the stark differences between a first- and last-place team.

Remarks: Jake Bennett, one of the Nationals’ top pitching prospects, underwent Tommy John surgery this month, according to two people familiar with the situation. The surgery, which included internal bracing of Bennett’s left elbow, was expected to rule him out for all of next season. Bennett, 22, was Washington’s second-round pick last summer. He posted a 3.14 ERA in the minors this season despite missing two months between June and August. In his last appearance on August 30, he scored seven runs on 10 hits. His Tommy John surgery was first reported by 106.7 the Fan. …

The Nationals announced their minor league awards Thursday, recognizing James Wood for his offense, lefty Andrew Alvarez for his pitching, infielder Trey Lipscomb for his defense, outfielder Johnathon Thomas for his baserunning and outfielder Jacob Young for best fielding “Nationals Way.”

Andrew Golden contributed to this report. Braves beat rookie Jake Irvin and the Nationals

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