By Mark Bowman, Jamal Collier and Bill Ladson
WASHINGTON -- Wilson Ramos collected four hits and Daniel Murphy continued his hot start to the season as the Nationals defeated the Braves, 6-4, Monday night at Nationals Park. This was the first game of a seven-game stretch against the rebuilding Braves and Phillies for the Nationals, a schedule that gives them the opportunity to get off to a fast start to the season.
"That's big, you can either get off to a good start or get off to a terrible start," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. "You need to win those games, this is the epitome of games you win in April you don't have to win in August or September."
The Nationals overcame a rocky outing from Max Scherzer, whom the Braves were on from the start, beginning with a two-run double from A.J. Pierzynski in the first. Scherzer battled through six innings, surrendering four runs on six hits with three walks and six strikeouts.
"They put some good at-bats against me in the first couple innings," Scherzer said. "I just couldn't find a pitch to get out of the jam there with runners on base. Sometimes you got to tip your hat to your opponents, and that was the situation."
The Nationals answered the Braves' two-run first with three runs in the bottom of the inning, punctuated by a two-run homer by Murphy off Braves starter Bud Norris. Norris pitched well against the Nationals last week in Atlanta, when he gave up three runs in seven innings, but he did not have the same success Monday. He threw 37 pitches in the first inning and surrendered five runs on nine hits over five innings
"If you lose five or six in a row in July, nobody worries," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said after his team fell to 0-6. "It's the beginning of a season, and I am worried, but I know we are playing good baseball, and we're close to playing good baseball. We're going to be better for it."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Big day for Ramos: An adjustment at the plate from working with hitting coach Rick Schu led to immediate results for Ramos, who was hitless in his last nine at-bats entering Monday before going 4-for-4 at the plate while driving in a pair of runs. It was the third four-hit game of his career and first since 2013. His presence was also felt behind the plate, when he threw out speedy Braves rookie Mallex Smith in the fourth inning. It's the second consecutive day Ramos has thrown out a speedy baserunner, after catching Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon stealing Sunday afternoon. More >
Double trouble: After Pierzynski gave the Braves an early lead with his two-run double in the first, Nick Markakis softened the blow of Washington's three-run first with the two-out, two-run double he delivered in the second inning. Markakis began the fifth inning with his fifth double within a span of nine at-bats. But he was left stranded at third as Scherzer retired Freddie Freeman, Adonis Garcia and Pierzynski without the ball leaving the infield. The Braves recorded just two hits over the final four innings.
Murphy settles in with new team: There was no adjustment period needed for Murphy, who is now 8-for-17 with two homers through his first five games in Washington after a pair of hits Monday. It is as if he picked up where he left off last October, when he helped carry the Mets to the World Series.
"One of the biggest things you have to look at is the amount of traffic that's on the basepaths," Murphy said. "Anytime you can put the pitcher into high leverage situations, they're more prone to make mistakes. I've been hitting with a lot of people on base." More >
Bloody debut: With center fielder Ender Inciarte sidelined until at least April 24 with a hamstring strain, the Braves promoted highly-regarded prospect Mallex Smith on Monday and immediately inserted him into the leadoff spot. Smith highlighted his MLB debut with his first career hit -- a second-inning single off Scherzer that enabled him to show off his speed when he scoring from first base on Markakis' first double. But Smith's memorable night ended when he suffered a laceration above his left eye when his forehead cracked his batting helmet as he slid headfirst toward second base on an unsuccessful stolen base attempt in the fourth inning.
"I'll have a good story from my debut down the road," said Smith, who said he'll be ready to play on Tuesday after receiving five stitches to close the laceration. More >
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
The Nationals have won 11 straight games against the Braves at Nationals Park and 15 of 16 dating back to June 21, 2014.
Washington matched a team record (2005-present) with three stolen bases in the bottom of the first inning. With a fourth stolen base in the eighth inning, it marked the most steals the Nationals have had in a game since Sept. 1, 2014.
WHAT'S NEXT Braves: Jhoulys Chacin will make his season debut when Atlanta and Washington resume this four-game series on Tuesday at 7:05 p.m. ET. Chacin earned a rotation spot during Spring Training, but to fit their roster needs the Braves had the veteran right-hander make his first start of the year with Triple-A Gwinnett.
Nationals:Gio Gonzalez will make his season debut as the Nationals host the Braves for the second of this four-game series at Nationals Park. It will be Gonzalez's first outing since a Spring Training game on March 27 after beginning the season in the bullpen because the Nationals wanted to slot him in between Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg in the rotation.