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Associated Press photo by John Bazemore / Atlanta Braves starter Max Fried pitches against the Washington Nationals on Thursday night.

Updated with more information at 1:10 a.m. on Sept. 6, 2019

ATLANTA — Max Fried knew his night was about done.

So with the final pitch of the most dominating performance of his MLB career, he unleashed a 96 mph fastball.

"Just leave it all out there," Fried said. "If he got me, he got me."

No worries. Juan Soto swung and missed.

Strike three.

Fried allowed just one baserunner over seven innings — an infield single in the first — to push the Atlanta Braves a step closer to their second straight NL East title, beating Stephen Strasburg and the Washington Nationals 4-2 on Thursday night in the opener of a four-game series between the division's top teams.

"I felt really good," Fried said. "I know how important this series is."

The only player to reach base against Fried (16-4) was Anthony Rendon, who beat out an infield dribbler with two outs in the first. After that, the left-hander retired the last 19 hitters he faced with nine strikeouts, needing just 90 pitches to breeze past the Nationals.

"He just seemed to have it all," said Washington leadoff hitter Trea Turner.

After Fried was lifted for a pinch-hitter, Shane Green eased through the eighth, allowing only a walk. Mark Melancon made things interesting in the ninth, giving up a two-run home run to Victor Robles and a single to Juan Soto that brought the potential tying run to the plate.

Howie Kendrick grounded out to end the game, dropping Washington eight games back in the standings.

"I gave it everything I had," Strasburg said. "It just wasn't good enough tonight. Sometimes that happens."

The Braves jumped on Strasburg (16-5) for two runs in the first inning, sparked by Ronald Acuña Jr.'s leadoff single. He added to the lead with a mammoth homer in the fifth, launching one into the Chop House restaurant for his 37th homer of 2019. Right fielder Michael A. Taylor took only a couple of steps before stopping to watch the ball sail into the dinner crowd.

"It's huge," Acuña said through a translator. "We already have a playoff atmosphere that is fun to play in."

Strasberg turned it another strong outing, giving up just four hits before he was pulled after the sixth. He walked four batters and struck out seven.

The wild card-leading Nationals likely need to win at least three of four in SunTrust Park to have any chance to chasing down the Braves and avoiding that dreaded wild-card playoff game. Thanks to Fried, the task got even harder.

"That was as good as it gets," Braves catcher Brian McCann said. "He had it all working tonight. Throwing any pitch in any count. Got ahead. Stayed on the attack."

Acuña led off the bottom of the first with a single to left-center, snatched second base for his 34th steal of the year and came home on Ozzie Albies' bloop double down the left-field line. Freddie Freeman extended the lead with a run-scoring single. Strasburg escaped further trouble by striking out Dansby Swanson with Freeman at third.

Strasburg dominated after that — until he fell behind Acuña in the fifth. The youngster received the green light on a 3-0 pitch and got every bit of Strasburg's 94 mph fastball.

McCann added an RBI single in the eighth.

Braves third baseman Josh Donaldson made a diving grab on Taylor's hard-hit grounder leading off the third and threw to first from a knee, getting the speedy runner by half a step.

It's becoming a rather routine play for Donaldson, who signed a one-year deal with the Braves in the offseason.

"He's been making unbelievable plays for me all year," Fried said. "The defense that he brings, the attitude that he brings, he's a winner."

Nationals left-hander Roenis Elias had to leave the game in the middle of the eighth after tweaking a hamstring.

"We don't know anything definitive yet," Washington manager Dave Martinez said. "It got tight on him. We'll know more tomorrow."

Washington outfielder Adam Eaton struck out as a pinch-hitter to end the eighth after missing the previous two games. He's still recovering from a painful bone bruise, the result of taking a pitch off his right knee last week.

"He's still sore," Martinez said. "It's a brutal area to get hit in. It's going to take some time, but it's getting better."

On the injury front for Atlanta, right-hander Darren O'Day is finally back in the big leagues and looking to make his first appearance in nearly 15 months. The Braves added O'Day to their expanded active roster after he completed a rehab stint in the minors.

He last pitched in the majors with the Baltimore Orioles on June 26, 2018, before season-ending hamstring surgery. He was traded to the Braves and expecting to return this season, only to be sidelined for much of the year by a forearm strain.

"I'm sure he's excited as he can be to get back," Atlanta manager Brian Snitker said. "He's been through a lot."

Atlanta left-hander Dallas Keuchel (6-5, 3.72 ERA) will start Friday night's game, looking for his fourth straight win and having allowed just three runs over 25 innings in his past four appearances.

The Nationals will counter with their own southpaw, Patrick Corbin (11-6, 3.19), who will face Atlanta for the third time this season. He won while surrendering four runs in 11 innings over those two previous appearances.

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