WASHINGTON (AP) Production from the top of the order and rookie pitcher Reynaldo Lopez fueled an early lead for the Washington Nationals. Then a relay throw saved the day for the NL contenders.
Daniel Murphy hit a two-run homer and drove in four runs, Lopez pitched seven innings for his first major league win and the Washington Nationals held off the Atlanta Braves 7-6 on Saturday night.
Trailing 7-1 entering the eighth, Atlanta scored one run in the eighth and four in the ninth against the bullpen. Mark Melancon came on after the Braves scored twice in the ninth and recorded the final three outs for his 33rd save.
Erick Aybar's two-run double against Melancon pulled the Braves within one. With no outs and Freddie Freeman on deck, Aybar tried for third base and was thrown out by shortstop Danny Espinosa, who relayed the cutoff toss from center fielder Ben Revere.
The Braves challenged the call, but replay upheld the ruling.
''The game-saver was a relay that you work on all the time from Ben to Danny,'' Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. ''If (Danny) had a lesser arm, it would have been a runner on third.''
Trea Turner had three hits, including a homer and one of Washington's three triples. Revere had the other two and drove in a run for the NL East leaders.
The Nationals played their fifth straight game without injured right fielder Bryce Harper and first without former closer Jonathan Papelbon, who was released before the game to make room on the roster for Lopez (1-1). The right-handed Lopez allowed one run and five hits.
''It was a great performance,'' Baker said. ''We didn't want to blow that.''
Rob Whalen (1-1) surrendered six runs and six hits over five innings in his third big league start. The Braves have lost three of four.
Lopez, one of Washington's top prospects, didn't pitch five full innings in either of his previous big league starts, and this start opened with a thud. Freeman put Atlanta up 1-0 in the first with his 23rd home run, matching his career high. Lopez kept Atlanta scoreless from there while dancing out of occasional trouble.
''It's an incredible feeling especially since I'm trying to help the team get a playoff spot,'' the rookie said of his first win.
Baker said Lopez would ''probably'' get another start, but wouldn't commit.
Washington took a 2-1 lead in the first with Turner's leadoff triple and Murphy's towering drive down the right-field line.
Turner homered during a two-run third inning and scored his third run in the fifth on Revere's second triple.
Papelbon was 2-4 with a 4.37 ERA and 19 saves this season. He labored in July and only pitched 2 2/3 innings after his final blown save on July 26. The Nationals acquired Melancon a few days later from Pittsburgh.
THE NEW GUY
RHP Jason Hursh made his major league debut in the sixth inning one day after day after he called up from Triple-A Gwinnett. The reliever allowed one run on three hits with one strikeout.
Jayson Werth's sixth-inning single extended his on-base streak to 42-games. Werth owns the longest active streak in the majors and is one game behind Ryan Zimmerman's club record of 43 set in 2009.
Braves: Chris Withrow, on the DL since Aug. 8 with right elbow inflammation, had an MRI that showed no ligament damage. The right-hander will begin throwing Tuesday. ... The Braves recalled RHP Ryan Weber from Triple-A Gwinnett and optioned RHP Akeel Morris to Double-A Mississippi before the game.
Nationals: Harper had an MRI for his lingering neck issue, general manager Mike Rizzo announced Saturday. ''It was clean, so that's good news,'' Rizzo said, adding there are no plans to place Harper on the DL for now. The 2015 NL MVP last played Aug. 6.
Braves: RHP Tyrell Jenkins (2-2, 3.92 ERA) allowed only two runs in 18 innings over his last three starts.
Nationals: RHP Tanner Roark (12-6, 2.88 ERA) is 4-1 with a 1.84 ERA in career starts against Atlanta.