WASHINGTON — Thanks to their formidable lineup and a reliable bullpen, the Atlanta Braves are contending for a third straight National League East title, but they will eventually need to rely on starting pitching to get the job done.
Right now, that's coming in the form of rookie Ian Anderson.
Anderson allowed one hit in seven scoreless innings, and the division-leading Braves held on to beat the Washington Nationals 2-1 on Saturday night after closer Mark Melancon escaped a bases-loaded jam in the ninth.
In the fourth start of his MLB career, Anderson (3-0) allowed his only hit when Asdrúbal Cabrera put a bunt down the third baseline. Anderson had a season-high nine strikeouts and allowed three walks, retiring the last 12 batters he faced and 18 of the final 19.
"I wasn't entirely happy giving up three walks in the first three innings, "Anderson said after pitching a season high in innings for Braves starters.
Anderson is the second pitcher over the past 120 years to allow one or fewer hits in two starts of at least six innings in his first four appearances. The 22-year-old right-hander also allowed one hit against the New York Mets in his debut on Aug. 26.
Melancon earned his 10th save in 11 chances this year, getting Victor Robles to pop out to right field with the bases loaded as the reigning World Series champions' hopes of making the expanded playoffs took another hit.
"I really thought we were going to score in the last inning," Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. "We had our chance there, and it just didn't happen."
Atlanta fell behind 5-0 in the first two games of the series, winning 7-6 on Thursday and losing 8-7 in 12 innings Friday, but this time Ronald Acuña Jr. had a single, a stolen base and scored a run on a Marcell Ozuna single in the first inning as the Braves never looked back. Ozzie Albies added two-out RBI single in the fourth.
Adam Eaton came in as a pinch-hitter to lead off the bottom of the eighth against Braves reliever Shane Greene and got the Nationals' second hit of the game on a single to right. He stole second, then scored on a two-out RBI double by Trea Turner.
Washington loaded the bases in the ninth on singles by Cabrera and Eric Thames and an intentional walk to Eaton, but Robles popped out to right to end the game.
Atlanta has just three shutout wins through 46 games in the coronavirus-shortened season.
Nationals starter Patrick Corbin (2-5) allowed two runs on nine hits while striking out eight. The left-hander has lost his past five decisions, and last-place Washington has posted a 2-7 record in his starts in 2020.
"He gave us seven innings, which is perfect," Martinez said. "We just didn't score any runs for him."
The Braves got a double dose of good news on the injury/recovery front.
Not only was Acuña back at the top of the order after leaving Friday night's game in the fourth inning after fouling a ball off his left foot, left-handed pitcher Cole Hamels (triceps tendinitis) is tentatively slated to make his first start of the season Wednesday in Baltimore.
The Braves, who split six games with the Nationals in Atlanta this season — two in mid-August and four last weekend — will try to win this four-game set Sunday afternoon as right-hander Kyle Wright (0-4, 8.05 ERA) makes his fifth start of the season in the series finale. He has pitched beyond the fourth inning just once.
The Nationals will counter with righty Max Scherzer (4-2, 3.40), who tossed seven shutout innings and struck out eight batters in his most recent start, against the Tampa Bay Rays on Sept. 7.