WASHINGTON — After sitting for three hours and 12 minutes through a rain delay at Nationals Park on Friday night, the Braves slumbered through the first few innings of a 4-2 win over the Nationals and then used their power to begin an important road trip in auspicious fashion.
Austin Riley hit a go-ahead homer in the seventh, and Charlie Morton overcame a bumpy beginning to his six-inning effort. Travis d’Arnaud, Ozzie Albies and Dansby Swanson also hit solo homers for the Braves, who are once again tied with the Phillies atop the National League East standings.
“We’ve got a big seven-week stretch in front of us,” Swanson said. “We’ve battled through not only the adversity during the year, but even just some of the travel and the late nights we’ve had, and just even a rain delay playing into the wee hours of the morning. But it’s nice to just be able to compete and lay a good foot forward at the start of the road trip.”
With eight wins in their past 10 games, the Braves find themselves in the middle of a nine-game road trip that will also pit them against the Marlins and Orioles, who, like the Nationals, are not making any plans for the postseason.
Meanwhile, the Phillies are playing the Reds this weekend and the Padres next weekend. The Mets are in a 13-game stretch that pits them only against the Dodgers and Giants, who are two of the NL’s three 70-win teams.
Riley’s go-ahead solo shot off Josiah Gray was his 24th homer of the season, and his 10th since the All-Star break. Three of his past five home runs have either tied the game or given the Braves a lead in the sixth inning or later.
Riley has recently been one of the game’s top offensive performers, as he has hit .336 with a 1.078 OPS going back to July 7. But this isn’t an out-of-the-blue surge by the 24-year-old third baseman — he has hit .305 with a .943 OPS going back to April 18.
“I know [Chipper Jones] preaches to Austin about hitting the ball to right-center field,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “Man, that is pretty when he hits balls like that.”
While Riley is on pace to hit 33 homers, Swanson set a single-season franchise record for shortstops when he hit his 21st homer in the seventh. The record had previously been set by Denis Menke in 1964.
After missing three months because of a torn ligament in his left thumb, which he suffered on May 1, d’Arnaud appears ready to resume the offensive success he had when he won a Silver Slugger Award last year.
d’Arnaud’s leadoff single in the third accounted for the first of five hits allowed by Gray, who struck out five of the first 10 batters he faced and looked as impressive as he had while recording 10 strikeouts over five innings in Atlanta last week.
But d’Arnaud got the Nationals rookie again in the fifth, with a two-out homer that just cleared the left-field wall. The veteran catcher has gone 3-for-8 in his first two games since returning from his thumb injury.
“You can tell he’s seeing the ball well, and how he controls the pitching staff is big too,” Swanson said.
With Joc Pederson starting in center field on Friday, the Braves had seven players in their lineup who should end the season with at least 20 homers. d’Arnaud, who batted seventh, was on pace to hit 24 homers during last year’s shortened season.
Will Smith had to escape a two-on, none-out jam to notch his 24th save, and Tyler Matzek might have recorded the biggest out of the night when he got Juan Soto to look at a 98.9 mph fastball on the outside corner for a called third strike in the eighth. But the tone of the evening was set by Morton, who allowed three straight hits to begin the game and then limited the Nationals to two runs over six innings.
“He’s been phenomenal for us all year,” Swanson said. “You know what to expect from him every time he goes out there.”
Morton has a 2.51 ERA in 11 starts going back to June 17. The 37-year-old continues to seemingly get better with age. After allowing the Nationals to score a pair of runs in the first, he benefited from a strong, accurate throw from Adam Duvall that prevented Josh Bell from scoring on Luis García’s two-out single in the fourth.
But Morton took care of things himself after a couple of soft singles helped the Nationals put runners at the corners with one out in the sixth. He ended his night with consecutive strikeouts of Yadiel Hernandez and Carter Kieboom.
“They put some really good swings on me early and put some runs on the board early,” Morton said. “But then our guys kind of got settled. On the pitching and defensive side, we were able to buy some time for the guys. It was just a matter of time before our guys put great swings on the ball.”