Keuchel labors through Atlanta debut, Nats nip Braves 4-3

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Dallas Keuchel

Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel throws during the fourth inning of a baseball game against the Washington Nationals in Washington, Friday, June 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Dallas Keuchel enjoyed being back on the mound after than a longer-than-expected wait between major league starts. He would have been happier if a three-run lead hadn’t slipped away.

Keuchel labored through five innings in his Atlanta debut, coughing up that 3-0 lead as the Braves lost 4-3 to the Washington Nationals on Friday night.

The Braves scored two in the second and another in the third against Washington starter Stephen Strasburg, but the Nationals rallied against Keuchel.

“It was really nice to get back at it,” Keuchel said. “The most frustrating part is getting three runs early off Strasburg. … Being granted three runs early off a really, really good pitcher is something I’ve got to take advantage of, and I usually do.”

Keuchel, who couldn’t find a deal he wanted during a tough offseason for veteran free agents, signed a one-year, $13 million contract on July 7 with the NL East-leading Braves, who hope he can help lead them to the postseason. The left-hander then made two minor league starts before he was recalled Friday from Double-A Mississippi.

It was the first major league appearance for Keuchel since he started Game 3 of last year’s AL Championship Series for the Houston Astros.

Keuchel (0-1) never retired Washington in order and gave up four runs, three earned, on eight hits. He also hit two batters, but Atlanta manager Brian Snitker was pleased with his new starter’s outing.

“He threw the ball extremely well,” Snitker said. “He kept them off-balance tonight. He had a good feel for what he was doing.”

The Braves had won 11 of 13 entering the game to build a cushion atop the division. The third-place Nationals have won five straight and nine of 12 to move within a game of .500 for the first time since April 24.

Atlanta led 3-0 in the fourth thanks to a two-run homer by Austin Riley and an RBI double by Freddie Freeman, who has now driven in a run in nine straight games, matching an Atlanta record.

In the bottom half, Victor Robles lined an RBI triple and scored on Michael A. Taylor’s squeeze bunt. Yan Gomes homered to tie it at 3-3.

Washington pushed ahead in the fifth, when Juan Soto led off with a triple and Anthony Rendon singled him home.

Strasburg (8-4) allowed three runs in six innings. With closer Sean Doolittle having worked two consecutive nights, Wander Suero allowed the first two runners to reach in the ninth before retiring the side for his first career save. Robles made a sliding catch in right field for the last out.

“It was little — I wouldn’t say hesitation — but there was a little doubt in my mind as I was coming to make the play,” Robles said through a translator. “I made the play and I was able to make the catch and win the game for the team.”

Washington’s much-maligned bullpen got three scoreless innings from four pitchers.

“We had a couple of guys in the bullpen who are down,” manager Dave Martinez said. “The rest of the guys stepped up. We need them all and they proved it tonight.”

SUSPENSION DROPPED

Braves third baseman Josh Donaldson had his one-game suspension rescinded by Major League Baseball. He had appealed the penalty after a dust-up with Pittsburgh pitcher Joe Musgrove earlier this month. Donaldson was still fined for the incident.

Donaldson doubled and singled Friday night.

MOVES

The Nationals recalled right-hander Joe Ross from Triple-A Fresno. Washington has yet to announce a starter for Sunday, and Ross could get the call if he’s not needed in the bullpen Saturday. Washington optioned infielder Adrian Sanchez to Double-A Harrisburg.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Nationals: 1B Ryan Zimmerman (plantar fasciitis in right foot) began his rehab assignment with Double-A Harrisburg. He played five innings and went 1-for-1 with a walk. He has missed 48 games with the injury, and Martinez said Zimmerman will work his way up to playing nine innings.

UP NEXT

Braves: Mike Foltynewicz (2-5, 5.53 ERA), who is 5-4 with a 4.02 ERA in 11 career starts against Washington, will start for Atlanta on Saturday.

Nationals: Aníbal Sánchez (3-6, 3.84) is 3-0 in his last four starts.

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