Marcell Ozuna hit Atlanta‘s third grand slam in four games, Max Fried pitched five strong innings in his return from the injured list, and the Braves beat the Washington Nationals 5-3 on Wednesday night.
Fried (1-1) allowed one run and four hits, struck out six and walked one, lowering his ERA from 11.45 to 8.44. He had been sidelined since April 14 with a strained right hamstring.
Rookie William Contreras hit his first career homer for the Braves in his third start, replacing the injured Travis d’Arnaud at catcher.
By taking the first two games of this series, the Braves have won seven of nine at Washington dating to last season, when they won their third straight NL East title.
Washington’s Trea Turner hit his team-leading seventh homer, a two-run drive in the eighth inning off Josh Tomlin. A.J. Minter loaded the bases with two outs but got Victor Robles to pop out, and Will Smith worked the ninth for his sixth save in six opportunities.
Contreras singled leading off the third against Erick Fedde (2-3) and advanced on a sacrifice bunt and a passed ball. Ronald Acuña Jr. walked and stole second on Fedde’s first pitch to Freddie Freeman, who was then intentionally walked. Fedde threw a first-pitch cutter to Ozuna that didn’t cut, and Ozuna drove it to the first row of the bleachers in right-center.
Ozuna, who came in batting .195, savored the slump-busting slam with a colorful home run trot, dancing as he rounded second and pointing to the sky twice - once at a full stop.
His recent struggles aside, Ozuna’s slam was hardly as surprising as those that preceded it for Atlanta - rookie Cristian Pache’s first career homer in a loss to Toronto on Saturday night, and pitcher Huascar Ynoa going deep on Tuesday in Washington.
Yan Gomes homered off Fried in the fourth.
Braves: Left-hander Sean Newcomb, who spent time on the injured list this season for an undisclosed reason, was optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett on Tuesday night ahead of Fried’s return to the roster. Manager Brian Snitker said Newcomb needed regular work to get back to the form he showed early in the season.
Nationals: Juan Soto, limited to pinch-hitting duty because of a left shoulder injury, grounded out leading off the ninth. … Injured starter Stephen Strasburg (right shoulder) and reliever Wander Suero (left oblique) were both scheduled to throw simulated games on Thursday, manager Dave Martinez said.
CAN’T DO BETTER
Nationals reliever Kyle Finnegan struck out the side on nine pitches in the sixth, the fifth immaculate inning in franchise history and first since Strasburg on July 3, 2019.
Both managers said their clubs were nearing the 85% vaccination threshold for players and Tier 1 staff, which leads to the relaxation of some COVID-19 protocols, including mask requirements in dugouts and bullpens. Snitker said the Braves were eight or nine days away from hitting the number. Martinez said he’s looking forward to not having to wear a mask in the dugout but said a few players “were still on the fence” about getting the vaccine. “They’re asking questions about it, so that’s good,” he added.
Thursday’s series finale is a matchup of lefties, with Atlanta‘s Drew Smyly (0-2, 8.05 ERA) opposing Jon Lester (0-0, 0.00), who is making his second start of the season.
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