Postgame analysis of the Nats' 2-1 win over the Atlanta Braves on Tuesday at Nationals Park:
How it happened: Kept in check all night by Braves starter - and Triple-A call-up - Jhoulys Chacin, Bryce Harper needed just one pitch from somebody else to give the Nationals their fifth win of the season. It was a slider over the outside of the plate from reliever Eric O'Flaherty and Harper smoked it to left field to plate two runs and break a scoreless tie. Harper came through with two outs, landing the Nats' first extra-base hit of the evening and a decisive blow to an Atlanta Braves still searching for their first win. The Braves are now 0-4 against the Nats and 0-7 on the season, their worst start since 1988 (27 years).
What it means: The Nationals moved to 5-1 on the season through six games - their best start in team history - as they once again won a tightly fought battle with an NL East foe. The biggest takeaway has to be the performance of starter Gio Gonzalez, who made his belated season debut in convincing fashion. Despite not pitching for over two weeks, Gonzalez gave the Nats six scoreless innings and helped lead them to another victory.
Gio impressive in season debut: So much for the long layoff. Gonzalez had not pitched in 16 days with his last outing a March 27 spring start, but he showed no signs of rust with a strong first showing in the Nats' sixth game of the season. Gio went six scoreless innings on 95 pitches with only three hits and one walk allowed. He struck out four batters and left with the score still locked at 0-0. Gonzalez also pitched six scoreless frames in his final outing of 2015, so he's got a 12 scoreless innings streak dating back to last season. The Braves' lone run on Tuesday came in the top of the ninth off Felipe Rivero. Kelly Johnson doubled home Gordon Beckham, who drew a walk against Blake Treinen.
Jhoulys had them Chacin: As good as Gonzalez was, he was matched pound-for-pound with Chacin, who was called up from Triple-A earlier on Tuesday to make his season debut. The veteran right-hander baffled the Nats with a lots of breaking stuff to the tune of six scoreless frames. His curveball, slider and cutter danced around the strike zone and kept the Nationals to five hits and zero walks on 69 pitches. The meat of the Nats' order - Anthony Rendon, Harper and Ryan Zimmerman - went a combined 0-for-12 with four strikeouts against him. The four strikeouts obviously did not come against Harper, because he doesn't do that sort of thing. But then the Braves curiously pulled Chacin for a pinch-hitter in the top of the seventh to get Jace Peterson up with a man on second. Peterson struck out to Shawn Kelley and cut short what was a very impressive start for Chacin, one that probably could have continued for a few more frames.
Murphy still on fire: Daniel Murphy added two more hits in this game, including one off Chacin, and is now 10-for-20 in his first six games with the Nationals. He had two singles and his second one was particularly impressive. It came in the bottom of the seventh off reliever Hunter Cervenka. Braves shortstop Erick Aybar was shifted over slightly towards second and Murphy smacked it perfectly in between him and second baseman Gordon Beckham. It was a good example of his approach as a contact hitter and his ability to 'hit it where they ain't,' as the saying goes. After Murphy's hit, the Nationals game production crew played a techno remix of 'Damn, Daniel. Back at it again, Daniel,' to play off the viral video from earlier this year. It added some fun to a cold night. Murphy did, however, get thrown out at second on a flyout to right field by Jayson Werth soon after his basehit.
Up next: The Nats host the Braves in the third installment of their four-game series. Stephen Strasburg (1-0, 1.50) will make his second start of the season while right-hander Matt Wisler (0-0, 5.40) gets the ball for Atlanta.