WASHINGTON — When Drew Smyly's previous start ended the way so many had recently — multiple home runs allowed, a loss for his Atlanta Braves — the left-hander looked at the calendar and took heart from realizing it was the last day of April.
He was excited to see what his first start of May would bring. It was rather different, as it turned out.
No balls left the park. No earned runs at all. And, finally, a win — his first since September 2019.
Smyly pitched into the seventh inning, Ehire Adrianza made the most of a rare start on a day off for slumping 2020 National League MVP Freddie Freeman, and the Braves edged the Washington Nationals 3-2 on Thursday for their first sweep of their NL East Division rivals since 2014.
"It's a new month. Every game's a new game. Every day's a day to get better," said Smyly (1-2), who allowed four hits and an unearned run. "It feels pretty good just to be able to celebrate with your teammates and help them win a ballgame."
Atlanta outscored the Nationals 14-6 during the three-game series, which gave them their first sweep of 2021 after being swept in their opening series against the Philadelphia Phillies and this past weekend by the Toronto Blue Jays. The Braves, who are the three-time reigning NL East champs, improved to 15-16 as they try to get north of. 500 for the first time this year — something they will have a chance to do when they host the division-leading Phillies starting Friday.
Smyly, who signed a one-year deal with Atlanta after pitching last season for the San Francisco Giants, allowed at least one home run in each of his past five starts and a total of eight over his past three.
"The way he went about the whole thing was a lot sharper," Braves manager Brian Snitker said.
That was built on better command of his fastball, something Smyly emphasized during bullpen sessions between starts.
"He made pitches when he needed to. Sometimes that's the name of the game," Washington second baseman Josh Harrison said. "He got out of a few jams if he got in them, and the defense made a few plays for him as well."
In a contest streamed on YouTube instead of aired on TV, Snitker left Freeman out of the lineup after a 1-for-24 stretch. Austin Riley shifted from third base to first, and Adrianza played third, where he robbed Trea Turner of a hit in the third inning.
In the top of the fourth, Adrianza's looper to center field capped a three-run outburst off Jon Lester (0-1).
Washington pulled within 3-1 when a run scored on a fielding error by right fielder Ronald Acuña Jr, and it was 3-2 after Yan Gomes' RBI single in the eighth. That's when Grant Dayton entered with two runners on and struck out Kyle Schwarber and Victor Robles, and then Will Smith worked around Ryan Zimmerman's pinch-hit leadoff double in the ninth for his seventh save in seven chances this year.
The Nationals were not so sure about plate umpire Nick Mahrley's called third strike on Robles ending the eighth.
"Ball might have been down," Schwarber said. "Could have been a momentum-changer there."
Washington manager Dave Martinez's take?
"He's a young umpire. He got caught in the moment," Martinez said. "I looked at it. It was a bad pitch."
Before the game, the Braves, dealing with multiple injuries at catcher, signed Tyler Flowers to a minor league deal. The 35-year-old Atlanta-area native played for the Braves the past five seasons.
Atlanta outfielder Ender Inciarte, on the injured list due to his left hamstring, was scheduled to begin a rehabilitation assignment at Triple-A Gwinnett.