Nats roll past Braves to keep pace with Mets

Nats roll past Braves to keep pace with Mets

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals continue to stay afloat in the National League East race as they defeated the Braves, 8-2, at Nationals Park on Saturday night.

The Nationals remained five games behind the first-place Mets, who defeated the Marlins, 7-0, in Miami, while the Braves have lost 11 straight and 18 of their past 19 games.

"It doesn't matter who we play right now. We have to beat everybody," Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth said. "So regardless if it's the team that hasn't had a good year or the team that is in first place, we want to get to where we want to get. We have to beat everybody."

Nationals center fielder Bryce Harper went 3-for-4 and reached a couple of milestones. In the third inning, Harper highlighted the scoring with a two-run homer for career hit No. 500. Two innings later, Harper scored his 100th run, making him the fifth player in Nationals history to reach the century mark in a season.

"I'm trying to get on base and win ballgames," Harper said. "If you … get on base for the guys behind you, you have faith they can get things done.That's what you are going to get. That's why I get so fired up when a call doesn't go my way. I want to battle to the end, and I want to do the things I can to help the team win."

Left-hander Gio Gonzalez had his best outing in almost a month. He pitched six shutout innings, allowed two hits and struck out 10 batters.

Atlanta starting pitcher Shelby Miller allowed seven runs in 4 1/3 innings, though he was not helped by his defense on the way to remaining winless since May 17.

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Nothing but zeros for Gio: Gonzalez had a no-hitter until the sixth inning, when Nick Markakis singled to right-center field. Gonzalez left the game after throwing 106 pitches in six innings.

"I thought he commanded the strike zone well today," Nationals manager Matt Williams said. "He threw some good breaking balls to strike guys out. … He managed pitched counts in innings two through four. He was able to get through six for us."

Harper leads the way: The Nationals scored a combined six runs in the third and fourth innings. Harper highlighted the scoring with a two-run homer off Miller in the third inning.

"It's difficult to say what's going through his mind at that point, but it looked like he was trying to hit a single. It didn't look like he was overswinging," Williams said about Harper's homer. "It didn't look like he was trying to pull the ball. He stayed on a 3-2 breaking ball and hit it to left center. That's the evolution. It's continuing."

Ian Desmond also had three hits and raised his batting average to .237.

Harper's 33rd homer

Defensive woes: Miller might have gotten through the first three innings in perfect fashion had a left contact-lens problem not prevented Cameron Maybin from seeing a Desmond fly ball that landed in center field to begin the bottom of the third. Maybin's inability to see Desmond's fortunate leadoff double led Miller to throw an additional 27 pitches in the four-run inning.

Desmond's bloop double

Catcher Christian Bethancourt's careless and unnecessary flip to the plate in the fourth inning allowed the Nationals to score two run on Wilson Ramos's 20-foot dribbler. It was that kind of night for Miller, who has produced a 3.53 ERA during his 20-start winless streak.

"I felt like I had good stuff the whole time," Miller said. "It's just one of those days where you go out and they put some good swings on some balls. At the end of the day, things didn't go our way."

Nats score two on grounder

QUOTABLE
"I wish I had the answer or could wave the magic wand to change everything around. But I think right now, we're at the bottom. We've really got to pull together as a unit and as a team and figure out what we're going to do. Are we going to pack it in, or come to the ballpark every day with a chip on our shoulder and get after somebody?" -- Braves outfielder Nick Swisher

Swisher's RBI double

SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
The Braves have lost 11 consecutive games within one season for the first time since Aug. 3-13, 1982. The '82 Atlanta squad won the NL West with the assistance of the 13 consecutive wins they ran off to begin the season.

In 16 games as the Nationals' leadoff hitter, Werth is hitting .333 (22-for-66) with three home runs, eight RBIs and 15 runs scored.

WHAT'S NEXT
Braves: Manny Banuelos will attempt to halt Atlanta's 11-game winless streak when he takes the mound at Nationals Park for Sunday afternoon's series finale. First pitch is set for 1:35 p.m. ET. Banuelos will be limited to 70-75 pitches as he makes his second start since being sidelined for a month with a bone chip in his left elbow. .

Nationals: Right-hander Joe Ross gets the start Sunday at 1:35 p.m. ET. In his last start, Ross had problems gripping the ball against the Cardinals because of the hot weather, and ended up walking six batters. The rookie has a 2.30 ERA over his last three starts.

Watch every out-of-market regular-season game live on MLB.TV.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the Time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.