- - Friday, June 21, 2019

The first-place Atlanta Braves upped the ante by signing free agent pitcher Dallas Keuchel.

But the surging Washington Nationals responded to the challenge — and so did pitcher Wander Suero, 27.

The Nationals battled back from a 3-0 deficit to beat the red-hot Braves 4-3 at Nationals Park on Friday night, as Suero got the first save of his major league career before a roaring crowd of 34,212 fans.

Washington (37-38) has won a season-high five games and now trails first-place Atlanta by 6½ games.

“It was a very big moment,” Washington outfielder Victor Robles said, via translator Octavio Martinez, of right-hander Suero. “I am very proud of him.”



With closer Sean Dolittle having pitched the last two days, Suero was called on to pitch the ninth with a one-run lead. He allowed a walk and single but got the final three outs, as Robles made a diving catch in right field on a ball hit by Dansby Swanson to end the game in perhaps the biggest win of the season for the Nationals.

Robles was charging hard and realized he was getting close to second baseman Brian Dozier.

“I lost it a little bit in the lights,” Robles.

Also on his mind was an elbow injury in suffered in April 10, 2018, while playing for Triple-A Syracuse that kept him out of action until July 7. That injury came on a similar liner.

“I won’t lie — a little bit of fear,” Robles said.

“He had an unbelievable break on the ball,” manager Dave Martinez said. “What a play.”

Keuchel, who won the Cy Young Award in 2015 with Houston, signed with the Braves two weeks ago. He pitched two games for Double-A Mississippi in the Southern League before making his first MLB start Friday.

He went five innings and gave up four runs (three runs) on eight hits with three strikeouts. Keuchel was tagged with the loss as Washington scored three runs in the fourth to tie it and then got a go-ahead single in the fifth by Anthony Rendon.

“I felt great,” Keuchel said. “A couple of tough breaks. I would like to have the fourth and fifth innings back. The competitor in me wants to do a lot better.”

The winning pitcher was Stephen Strasburg (8-4), who bounced back from his a rough start to go six innings and give up just three runs on five hits.

Washington’s Dozier reached on an error by second baseman Ozzie Albies and then scored on a triple by Robles in the fourth.

Michael A. Taylor then followed with a sacrifice bunt as Robles scored to trim the margin to 3-2.

The next batter, Yan Gomes, hit a homer over the Braves bullpen in left for a solo homer to tie the game. The longball went 447 feet — the longest homer at Nats Park this season.

Earlier in the day, Nationals manager Dave Martinez told Suero he might get the chance to pitch the ninth in a tight game.

“His eyes lit up,” Martinez said of Suero.

The Nationals have won 18 of the last 25 – but Friday may have been the biggest.

“It was a lot of fun. I enjoyed that,” Martinez said.

The series continues Saturday at 7:15 p.m. with Anibal Sanchez (3-6, 3.84) pitching for the Nationals and aiming for his fourth win in a row.

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