Gausman returns as the Braves rough up the Nationals

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Sunday, July 21, 2019

ATLANTA (AP) -- Kevin Gausman pitched into the eighth inning after missing more than a month, Josh Donaldson and Ronald Acuna Jr. homered, and the Atlanta Braves beat the Washington Nationals 7-1 on Sunday night to protect their NL East lead.

Nick Markakis hit a two-run single in the first off Joe Ross (0-2). Donaldson added his sixth-inning homer off Ross and a run-scoring single in the seventh. Acuna launched a two-run homer off Kyle McGowin in the eighth.

Following a split of the four-game series, the first-place Braves still lead the Nationals by 6 1/2 games.

Gausman (3-5) made his first start since June 10 after recovering from plantar fasciitis in his right foot. He allowed five hits and one run in seven-plus innings, with eight strikeouts and no walks.

The surprise was Gausman stuck with the same primary pitches -- fastball and splitter -- after working on a new cutter and his curveball during his minor league rehab assignment. The right-hander didn't change his plan even after the first two batters he faced -- Trea Turner and Adam Eaton -- hit long fly balls to the warning track.

Gausman had another scare when Anthony Rendon led off the sixth with a drive caught by Ender Inciarte at the center field wall. The right-hander then struck out Juan Soto and Matt Adams.

Gausman did not allow a runner to reach second base until the eighth, when he was pulled after giving up singles to Brian Dozier and Kurt Suzuki to open the inning. Pinch-hitter Gerardo Parra's bloop single off Anthony Swarzak drove in Dozier.

Ross, recalled from Triple-A Fresno before the game, allowed three runs on eight hits and two walks in 5 1/3 innings.

The loss by Ross snapped a string of 27 consecutive starts without a defeat for Washington starting pitchers since June 16. It was the longest streak since the 1916 New York Giants.

Acuna singled up the middle and was thrown out at second by Victor Robles to end the second inning. Acuna, who also walked in the seventh before his homer one inning later, has reached safely in 27 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the majors.

Freddie Freeman had three hits and an RBI.

Robles raced in toward the infield to make a diving catch of Dansby Swanson's shallow fly in the fifth.