WASHINGTON (AP) - After connecting for his first grand slam and 100th career home run, Bryce Harper is already thinking ahead to bigger milestones. His manager is invoking names like Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky.
Harper smashed a panel on an electronic signboard with his slam in the third inning, and the Washington Nationals beat the Braves 6-2 on Thursday to give Atlanta its ninth straight loss to start the season.
Harper is the eighth-youngest player to hit 100 homers at 23 years and 181 days old. Harper hit 42 of those homers last season while winning his first NL MVP award despite the Nationals falling short of the playoffs.
He has three home runs this season in eight games under new manager Dusty Baker, who is already impressed with Harper’s ability in the clutch. Thursday’s shot was just the latest, giving the Nationals a 4-1 lead after Braves starter Julio Teheran had breezed through two innings.
“In every sport, guys (that) are considered the great ones, Michael Jordan, Gretzky, Jim Brown, Joe Montana, they have a flair for the dramatic,” Baker said. “And I told him when he hit that home run, ‘Man, you’ve got a flair for the dramatic.’”
Harper said the benchmark hadn’t weighed on his mind.
“I think if you’re worried about 100, you don’t want any higher than that,” Harper said.
The Braves and Twins, who fell to 0-9 earlier Thursday, are the first major league teams to lose nine in a row to start a season since Detroit in 2003, according to STATS. Atlanta’s worst start came in 1988, when it went 0-10.
“I would bet that out of everybody in here, nobody’s been in this situation,” Braves infielder Kelly Johnson said. “This is unchartered territory.”
Stephen Strasburg (2-0) allowed two runs over 7 2/3 innings, a day after he was scratched due to illness.
He wavered early, walking leadoff batters in the first two innings, but eventually settled, striking out seven while allowing four hits and two walks before leaving after 100 pitches.
“Once the game got going, I started to, I guess I sweated it out a little bit and started to lock in,” Strasburg said. “I just kept telling myself, ‘One pitch at a time.’”
Wilson Ramos had a solo home run and an RBI double, and Washington improved to 7-1, tying the 1974 Montreal Expos for the best eight-game start in franchise history.
Nick Markakis singled, doubled and drove in both of Atlanta’s runs. Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez opted to rest slumping slugger Freddie Freeman.
Teheran (0-2) gave up six runs in seven innings, but had a 1-0 lead in the third before loading the bases with two outs. Up came Harper, who hit Teheran’s fastball off the signboard at the base of the second deck in right center.
The impact of the blast left a small panel dark for the remainder of the game.
“You’re just trying to get something through the hole and knock something, get those runs in and try to get ahead,” Harper said. “A homer wasn’t even in my mind at all. If it’s in your mind, then you’ll probably come off the ball and mishit something.”
‘JACKIE WOULDN’T BE PLEASED’
With Major League Baseball holding its 13th Jackie Robinson Day on Friday, Baker called for more black candidates to be considered for managerial positions.
“There are candidates that are out there that aren’t even getting a sniff,” Baker said. “I think about Jackie Robinson, there’s probably times when Jackie wouldn’t be pleased right now very much.”
Braves: Freeman missed over a month with a wrist injury last season but insisted Thursday that health was not the culprit for his recent slump. “I’m 100 percent healthy,” said Freeman, who is 2 for 25 this season. “I wish I could tell you, ‘Man, I’m hurting.’ But I’m not.”
Nationals: Baker suggested Strasburg’s condition had improved on Thursday, but that the right-hander still wasn’t at 100 percent.
Braves: RHP Williams Perez (0-0) will start Friday’s series opener against the Marlins looking to improve upon his first start. He allowed four runs in 4 2/3 innings in Sunday’s 12-7 loss to St. Louis.
Nationals: RHP Joe Ross (1-0) faces Philadelphia for the first time in his career as Washington begins its second road series of the season.
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