- - Wednesday, August 8, 2018

The Nationals will have one more chance this week to pick up ground on the second-place Atlanta Braves.

And it will come at home Thursday afternoon with a pitcher — Gio Gonzalez — who has not posted a victory in his last 11 starts.

Washington allowed three home runs at Nationals Park on Wednesday night and the Braves beat the Nationals 8-3, giving them two wins in the first three games of the series.

“We have Gio going. Our bullpen has been beat up,” said manager Dave Martinez.

The third-place Nationals (58-56) remained six games back of the first-place Phillies, who lost 6-0 earlier at Arizona. But Washington is now 5 ½ games behind second-place Atlanta (62-49), with the series finale Thursday at 1:05 p.m.

“It was just a rough day. We left (11) guys on base,” Martinez said after the loss Wednesday even though his team had 10 hits.

Nationals rookie left fielder Juan Soto, 19, was ejected when he came to bat in the sixth by home plate umpire Greg Gibson. Soto was upset since he was called out on strikes in the fourth, and hitting coach Kevin Long was also tossed.

“I think it was uncalled for,” Martinez said of the ejection of Soto. “I don’t think it was appropriate to be thrown out.”

Soto had never been thrown out of a game at any level.

“Never. First time,” said the Rookie of the Year candidate.

What has he thought of the calls during the series?

“They make errors. We make errors,” Soto said of the umpires.

The night started off ugly as Nationals nemesis Charlie Culberson hit a three-run homer off Tom Milone in the second inning for a 3-1 lead. The Braves made it 5-1 in the top of the fourth as Tyler Flowers hit a two-run homer. The next batter, Culberson, singled and two batters later Ronald Acuna, Jr. blasted a two-run, 452-foot shot to center for a 7-1 lead.

Milone entered the game with 3.00 ERA, having fanned 15 batters with no walks in his first two starts. But the longball has long been a problem for Milone (1-1), who gave up 15 homers in just 48 1/3 innings last season with the Mets and Brewers.

The homer by Culberson came on a pitch down the middle of the plate with the pitcher on deck for the Braves. Culberson has a homer in three games in a row and five of his eight homers this year are against Washington.

“He left a couple of balls out over the plate,” Martinez said of Milone.

Milone was making his first start ever against Atlanta, and entered the contest with an ERA of 13.50 against the Braves out of the bullpen in his career.

The Nationals also hit a ball over the fence — except Braves star center fielder Acuna, Jr. robbed Matt Adams of a homer with a catch over the wall in the fourth. Bryce Harper finally put the ball where it couldn’t be caught as he smashed a solo homer to left in the sixth to make it 7-3.

Harper is hitting .339 with five homers since winning the Home Run Derby and he has 28 homers on the season.

Atlanta starter Mike Foltynewicz (9-7) gave up three runs (one earned) in 5 2/3 innings for the win.

Veteran lefty Gonzalez (6-8, 4.04) has not posted a win since May 28 at Baltimore. The Braves starter on Thursday will be Anibal Sanchez (6-3, 2.89), who is 1-0, 1.69 in three career games against Washington.

The game will be a Facebook Watch and will not be available on Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN). The Nationals day game in Pittsburgh last month was also a Facebook Watch event.

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