Acuña hits 16th HR, ties for MLB lead as Braves beat Nats
ATLANTA (AP) — Ronald Acuña Jr. hit his 16th home run to tie for the big league homer lead and the Atlanta Braves beat the Washington Nationals 5-3 on Monday.
Acuña went deep to match Toronto’s Vladimir Guerrero Jr., San Diego’s Fernando Tatis Jr. and Texas’ Adolis Garcia for most in the majors.
“I try not to think about it,” Acuña said through a translator. “I’m not focused on it. I just try to go out there and play my game and help the team any way I can.”
The Braves have won six of seven games against the Nationals this season and have outscored them 33-21. Washington has lost five in a row overall.
Closer Will Smith retired the side in order in the ninth to earn his ninth save in nine chances. The right-hander got pinch-hitter Victor Robles to fly out, pinch-hitter Ryan Zimmerman to strike out and Trea Turner to fly out.
Guillermo Heredia’s run-scoring single off reliever Kyle Finnegan in the sixth pushed the lead to 5-3 . Finnegan struck out Acuña with the bases loaded to end the inning.
Atlanta starter Charlie Morton (4-2) gave up three runs, six hits and three walks with six strikeouts in five innings. Luke Jackson struck out Turner, who whiffed four times, to strand a runner at third in the sixth.
Morton thinks the Braves, who began the day 3 1/2 games behind the New York Mets in the NL East, are a winning streak away from getting on a roll.
“I think this stretch coming up is the one that’s going to either give us some momentum to finish the second half pretty well,” he said, “or it’s going to be tough because we’re playing some good teams.”
Joe Ross (2-5) allowed four runs, three hits and three walks with seven strikeouts, retiring the last 11 batters he faced, but he trailed 3-0 in the first on Dansby Swanson’s sacrifice fly and William Contreras’ two-run single.
“Once again, we’ve got to get out of that first inning,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “The first inning is hurting us. Joe gave up one hard-hit ball, but the walks hurt that inning.”
Acuña, who began the day hitting .193 in his last 16 games, homered in the second to make it 4-0. He was more concerned that the team finished 13-12 in May.
“That’s baseball,” he said. “There’s going to be a winner and there’s going to be a loser. I think for us it’s our job to go out there with the mentality to keep the focus up and the energy.”
Josh Bell hit his seventh homer, a two-run shot, to trim the lead to 4-2, and Ross’ RBI single made it 4-3 in the fourth. Morton struck out Turner to strand two runners to end the inning.
Atlanta has won five of seven to improve to 25-26. Washington dropped to 21-29. The Nationals are 6-23 when scoring three runs or less.
“I know I sound like a broken record, but we’ve just got to keep playing hard, and like I told them the tide will turn,” Martinez said. “We’ll bloop some in there one of these days with guys on base, but we’ve just got to keep going. We’ve got to keep playing hard.”
Nationals: Robles was reinstated from the injured list after being sidelined with a right ankle sprain. Martinez said he will likely return to the lineup Tuesday. ... Martinez added that Erick Fedde (illness) needs a rehab start before returning and is an unlikely candidate to start Wednesday.
Braves: RHP Shane Greene has back discomfort as he warms up for the season at Triple-A Gwinnett. He was scheduled to pitch Sunday but was pushed back until Tuesday when the Stripers open a homestand.
The Braves canceled a promotion Thursday in which fans would’ve been given a Marcell Ozuna arm sleeve giveaway. The star outfielder was granted a $20,000 bond Monday and released from an Atlanta jail after getting arrested two days earlier on charges of aggravated assault by strangulation and battery against his wife.
“I haven’t dealt with some of the things that we’re dealing with right now,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said.
Abraham Almonte started in Ozuna’s spot in left field and went 0 for 2. Atlanta earlier in the day selected the contract of Almonte, now with his sixth major league club, and optioned RHP Jay Flaa to Triple-A Gwinnett. To make room on the 40-man roster, Atlanta transferred RHP Huascar Ynoa (broken hand) to the 60-day injured list.
Washington RHP Stephen Strasburg (1-2, 4.43 ERA) faces Braves LHP Max Fried (2-2, 4.63). Strasburg is 14-12 with a 3.94 ERA in 35 career starts against Atlanta. Fried is 2-2 with a 5.70 ERA in seven starts and one relief appearance against Washington.