Keuchel struggles but survives in Braves debut

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The Braves went quickly in the top of the first inning, and there wasn’t a fan upset about it. Dallas Keuchel jogged out to the mound to make his highly anticipated debut on a windy night in Washington. His first task was to get out documented Braves killer Trea Turner. Keuchel couldn’t do it as Turner reached on a dinky infield single. It wouldn’t affect Atlanta’s newest toy, as he retired the next three batters, but it would be indicative of the kind of night it was for Keuchel.

The Braves bats started fast again, as Austin Riley launched his 12th home run of the year off Stephen Strasburg for a 2-0 lead. The bottom half of the inning would start with a hit and a hit batsman, but Keuchel maneuvered his way out of it like the wily veteran he is. Atlanta would add another run in the third on a Freddie Freeman double – which gives him nine consecutive games with an RBI.

Juan Soto doubled in the bottom half, but Keuchel navigated traffic again to hold the Nats scoreless through three frames. It would be in the fourth inning that things turned for the home side.

A routine groundball to Ozzie Albies resulted in a two-base error as the ball slipped out of Albies hand and into the stands. Victor Robles immediately made the Braves pay with a triple to the right-center field gap. Michael Taylor would bring him in with a sacrifice squeeze play, and Yan Gomes tied the game up with a moonshot way up into the left-field bleachers above the visiting bullpen. Things didn’t get easier for Keuchel in the fifth either.

Juan Soto led off the inning with a triple down the right-field line. The next batter, Anthony Rendon, singled him in, followed by a Howie Kendrick single. But Keuchel was once again able to limit the damage. He loaded the bases by hitting Victor Robles with one out but was able to force a ground out and fly out to end the inning. That was the end of the line for Keuchel, who finished five frames, gave up eight hits and three earned runs on 99 pitches.

For a pitcher who hasn’t pitched in a major league stadium for eight months, it’s about all the Braves could have asked for. He battled the entire night, keeping the bats in the game. Usually, when that happens, the Braves can come through in the later innings.

Tonight, they could not. A short-handed Nationals bullpen was able to toss three scoreless innings, handing Keuchel his first loss in a Braves uniform. Atlanta’s best shot came in the ninth when they put runners on first and second with nobody out. Charlie Culberson lined out to right, Ronald Acuña struck out, and Victor Robles stole a bloop single from Swanson with a sliding catch to end the game.

Washington has now won five in a row and has closed the gap between the Braves to 6.5 games. Mike Folynewicz is set to take on Anibal Sanchez in game two of the series tomorrow.

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