Harper homers, Gonzalez shines as Nationals beat Braves 8-2
WASHINGTON (AP) Bryce Harper's baseball brilliance almost defies explanation.
Pitcher Gio Gonzalez offered a video gamer's explanation after his arm and the slugger's latest power display carried the surging Washington Nationals to a fourth straight win.
Harper had three hits, including his 33rd home run, and Gonzalez tossed six scoreless innings as the Nationals defeated the Atlanta Braves 8-2 Saturday night.
Washington remains five games back of the NL East-leading Mets, who beat the Marlins 7-0.
Harper's two-run blast, his 500th career hit, capped a four-run third inning against Atlanta starter Shelby Miller (5-13). The NL batting leader also doubled twice and scored his league-leading 100th run.
''The guy is amazing. It's incredible to see him go out there and play the game he plays,'' Gonzalez said. ''It's almost like he's got the cheat codes.''
Gonzalez (10-7) held the Braves hitless through five innings. He allowed two hits with 10 strikeouts and four walks for his first victory since Aug. 10.
The Braves extended their season-high losing streak to 11 games.
Ryan Zimmerman also drove in two runs. Ian Desmond added three hits.
Miller, an All-Star this season, has dropped 12 straight decisions and gone 20 starts without a win.
He allowed a season-high seven runs over 4 1-3 innings. Miller hasn't won since May 23 despite a 3.53 ERA over that span.
Washington's four-run third inning encapsulated Miller's hard-luck stretch.
Desmond's simple fly ball turned into a leadoff double when center fielder Cameron Maybin lost track of the flight. On third base with two outs, Desmond raced home on Miller's wild pitch for a 1-0 lead.
Jayson Werth continued the inning with a ground-rule double and scored on Anthony Rendon's single. Then Harper, now batting .337, capped a 10-pitch at-bat by crushing a 3-2 pitch over the left-center wall.
''It was a cutter down and away,'' Miller explained. ''What can you do? He got under it. He has a lot of power.''
Harper, 22, fouled off five pitches before flashing veteran poise on the final swing.
''It didn't look like he was trying to over-swing. It didn't (look) like he was trying to pull the ball,'' Nationals manager Matt Williams said. ''I think that's the evolution continuing.''
Gonzalez walked consecutive batters with one out in the first inning and issued another base on balls in the fifth, but retired 11 straight Braves in between. Between the second and fifth innings, he struck out eight of 11 batters, impressing Harper in the process.
''He's got that in him every time he goes out there,'' Harper said.
Nick Markakis' single leading off the sixth broke up the no-hitter. Atlanta loaded the bases, but Gonzalez escaped unharmed, leaving with a 7-0 lead.
The Braves have dropped 33 of 42 games, including 18 of their last 19. They have lost nine straight in Washington this season.
''It's frustrating and it's tough,'' outfielder Nick Swisher said. ''We've got (26) games left and we've got to make a run because you don't want this going into the offseason.''
Swisher's RBI double in the eighth ended Washington's shutout bid.
Wilson Ramos' simple bouncer in front of home plate scored two runs in the fourth. Catcher Christian Bethancourt fielded the grounder as Yunel Escobar raced home from third base. Bethancourt threw wildly past Miller covering home plate, which allowed Desmond to score from second.
Braves: OF Cameron Maybin was removed before the fourth inning because of lingering vision issues with his left eye. He was diagnosed with a cornea abrasion.
Nationals: RHP Stephen Strasburg (back) is slated for a bullpen session Sunday, Williams said. Strasburg was pulled after four innings on Aug. 30 against the Marlins. He is on track to re-join the rotation Wednesday against the Mets.
RHP Aaron Barrett visited the Nationals clubhouse for the first time since undergoing Tommy John surgery Thursday. The reliever brought with him a jar that contained bone chips removed during the surgery by Dr. James Andrews.
Braves: LHP Manny Banuelos (1-3, 3.33) tossed 5 2-3 scoreless innings against Washington on July 2 in his first start of the season. He has lost each of his last three starts.
Nationals: RHP Joe Ross (5-5, 3.50) lasted a season-low 2 2-3 innings Sept. 1 against the Cardinals. The rookie only allowed one hit, but walked six batters and allowed three runs in the no-decision.