Nats no match for hot Braves, who complete sweep for 14th straight win

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On one side was the last-place Washington Nationals, wilting against Spencer Strider’s 100-mph fastball, then his biting slider, then the 97-mph fastballs that were slow for Strider — yes, really — yet still zoomed past late swings. And behind Strider were the Atlanta Braves, the defending World Series champions who won their 14th straight, 8-2, capping a three-game sweep that included 13 home runs for the visitors.

Wednesday was a night of contrasts at Nationals Park. Washington (23-42) was holding on until Austin Riley (twice) and Orlando Arcia punched homers off relievers Steve Cishek and Carl Edwards Jr. Riley ripped a two-run shot off Cishek in the seventh, then did the same against Edwards in the eight. The Braves (38-27), meanwhile, were paced by 5⅔ scoreless innings from the 23-year-old Strider.

The Nationals’ only hit against him was Luis García’s solo homer in the fifth. Otherwise, Strider notched a career-high 11 strikeouts and issued two walks to Lane Thomas.

It didn’t help that, in the seventh, Victor Robles lengthened his list of base-running mistakes. With two down and reliever Jesse Chavez in for Atlanta, Thomas chopped a grounder that Arcia bobbled for an error. For a moment, it seemed the Nationals would bring César Hernández up as the tying run with Nelson Cruz lurking behind him. But Robles took a big turn around second and Arcia recovered to throw him out while trying to retreat.

Generally, base runners are too scarce to give away. That rule was especially pertinent for the Nationals on Wednesday.

What’s the Nationals’ rotation for the upcoming Phillies series? Manager Dave Martinez knows Patrick Corbin will start Thursday, the first of five games in four days against Philadelphia, and Josiah Gray will start Saturday. Friday’s doubleheader, on the other hand, remains a question. Sunday’s finale does, too, though rookie Jackson Tetreault will be on schedule to make his second career start.

Friday’s plan hinged, at least in part, on how deep starter Erick Fedde went Wednesday night. And despite capping the fifth at 98 pitches, Martinez pushed Fedde into the sixth and to a season-high 111. Fedde’s pitch count spiked early because he couldn’t finish batters in two-strike counts, continuing a season-long trend. Fedde ultimately yielded three runs on seven hits and three walks. But by recording 16 outs, Fedde made it so Martinez could stay away from long men Paolo Espino and Evan Lee. If that’s the case again Thursday, they could line up to start both ends of Friday’s doubleheader.

One obvious risk is that neither is stretched out to full-length starts, which could put a lot of strain on a staff needing to cover 18 innings in one day. Since both teams will get a 27th man, it’s worth noting that Joan Adon, currently with the Class AAA Rochester Red Wings, would be on regular rest.

How did Alcides Escobar’s first rehab game go? Playing for the Red Wings in Scranton, Pa., Escobar hit a homer on the first swing of his first at-bat. He finished 1 for 3 and played five innings at shortstop while recovering from a strained right hamstring. Martinez told reporters Wednesday that Escobar’s next appearance will be as a designated hitter. The goal is for him to log seven defensive innings at shortstop in the following game. Martinez wants him to get around 20 at-bats in AAA before rejoining the Nationals.

What will Escobar’s role be with García starting at short? “I’ve talked to Alcides and he’s going to be more of a utility player,” Martinez said Wednesday afternoon. “He can play third, he’s done it, short, second, first, left field. He has played center field before. So he’s going to kind of be that guy where if we need somebody late in the games … and also, too, if there is a tough lefty and we have to give Luis a day off, we will and [Escobar] can play short as well. But he understands moving forward that Luis is going to play every day.”

Any updates on injured pitchers? Both Aníbal Sánchez and Josh Rogers will head to West Palm Beach, Fla., to continue their respective recoveries. Sánchez, 37, remains sidelined by a cervical nerve impingement in his neck. Rogers, 27, is on the 15-day injured list with a left shoulder impingement.

According to Martinez, Sanchez reached 15 pitches in his most recent bullpen session. Next he will throw more pens at the team’s spring training facility and hopefully progress to Florida Complex League games. If that goes well, he would begin a minor league rehab assignment with one of the team’s affiliates. Rogers is expected to follow a similar timeline.

Will Rogers be prepped to start or pitch in relief? Sounds like something in between. Rogers began the year starting and was moved to a bullpen role in late April. Ideally, Martinez would like him to be a bulk reliever who can throw two-plus innings in the middle of a game. Maybe Rogers could also make a spot start down the line. The target for his eventual rehab appearances is to build up to 60 pitches.

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