WASHINGTON -- The fifth spot in the Nationals' rotation has been a bit of a revolving door during the past month, bouncing back and forth between two of the club's top prospects while Joe Ross has been on the DL. But right-hander Reynaldo Lopez may have provided some stability in the rotation for the time being, after he tossed seven innings of one-run ball to help guide the Nationals to a 7-6 victory Saturday night against the Braves at Nationals Park.
Daniel Murphy drove in four runs, including his 22nd homer in the first, and Trea Turner homered as part of a three-hit night, finishing a double shy of the cycle as Washington secured its seventh victory in the past 10 games.
"It all starts with Rey-Rey on the mound. He did a great job tonight," Murphy said. "That was not the easiest conditions... to give up the homer and then go seven in those conditions was impressive."
The Nats led 7-1 after six innings, but the Braves got a run in the eighth and four in the ninth -- two on Erick Aybar's double in which he was thrown out trying to extend it to a triple -- before Mark Melancon retired Matt Kemp on a grounder to short to pick up the save.
Atlanta was trying to win its first series in Washington since April 2014, but could not overcome a rough outing from right-hander Rob Whalen, who gave up six runs on six hits in five innings. The Braves' only offense against Lopez came from a first-inning solo home run from Freddie Freeman -- his 23rd of the season.
"We're never out of it," Freeeman said. "That's just kind of our team. We put ourselves in a hole, so we had nothing to lose and we came out swinging. We just came up a little short."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED First career win: After a pair of uneven performances in his first two Major League starts, when he allowed nine runs in 8 2/3 innings, it was fair to wonder exactly what the Nationals would get in Lopez's third career outing. But Lopez -- the Nats' No.3 prospect according to MLBPipeline.com -- turned in the strongest outing of his career. In his two previous starts, Lopez had allowed nine runs in 8 2/3 innings. On Saturday, Lopez made it past the fifth inning for the first time, limiting the Braves to one run on five hits with two walks and two strikeouts. Manager Dusty Baker said earlier this week he would like to settle on one starter to fill in while Ross is out, but those decisions would come based on performance.
"It's an incredible feeling," Lopez said through an interpreter. "Especially since I'm trying to help the team get a playoff spot."
Manager Dusty Baker said earlier this week he would like to settle on one starter to fill in while Ross is out, but those decisions would come based on performance. So has Lopez earned another start?
Welcome to the Majors: Whalen has allowed four home runs through the first 16 innings of his career, including three within his past seven innings. He surrendered four home runs over 120 innings for Double-A Mississippi, Triple-A Gwinnett and the big leagues this season. Jason Hursh entered in the sixth to make his big league debut. Hursh allowed one run and three hits over one inning, but his line would have been uglier had Jace Peterson's not robbed Turner of a hit with a diving stop to end the sixth.
"I thought I made a lot of good pitches today," Whalen said. "I had a good feel for the strike zone. I was throwing a lot of strikes and getting ground balls. They're just a good team with good hitters. The top of the lineup, they didn't miss those mistakes I made."
Near cycle: Turner put on display the skills that have made him such a dynamic leadoff hitter for the Nationals. He tripled in the first -- his fifth of the season, all of which have come since the All-Star break, which leads the Majors. Turner also added a solo homer, and a single to finish a double shy of a cycle, for what he said would have been the first cycle of his life.
"It's hard to just tell yourself to just do the same thing, but that's what you've gotta do," Turner said. "I think the reason why you get three hits is that you have three good at-bats. I was just trying to tell myself to do that. Obviously, I was just hoping to hit something somewhere where I could run to second. It didn't happen, but it was fun."
Late rally: Peterson sparked a four-run ninth with a leadoff triple and Ender Inciarte fueled the rally by greeting Melancon with an RBI single. Aybar followed with a two-run double, but he was thrown out attempting to reach third. The Braves unsuccessfully challenged the ruling at third base and then saw their comeback bid end when Melancon retired Freeman and Kemp.
"We didn't wanna blow that one, [Lopez's] first win," Baker said. "But [the Braves], they don't quit."
"It was just some really good at-bats and I couldn't tell on Erick's ball. It got by the outfielders. The more I looked at it on replay, I thought he might have been safe. But I guess it wasn't enough." -- Braves interim manager Brian Snitker, on his team's late rally
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS Jayson Werth extended his on-base streak to 42 consecutive games with a single in the sixth. He is one away from matching the Nationals record of 43 straight games set by Ryan Zimmerman in 2009, and halfway to Ted Williams' Major League record of 84. More >
Freeman's first-inning shot was his 23rd home run, matching the career high he also produced in 2012 and 2013. Since going 0-for-4 with four strikeouts on Aug. 5 , the Braves' first baseman has gone 11-for-29 with three doubles, five home runs, three strikeouts and 11 walks.
The outcome was heavily influenced when the Braves unsuccessfully challenged Aybar was safe at third base in the ninth. There was an angle that indicated Aybar's left hand might have reached the bag before third baseman Anthony Rendon applied the tag, but the call stood when the umpires who reviewed the play did not find conclusive evidence.
"From one angle I looked safe, but the umpire said out," Aybar said. More >
WHAT'S NEXT Braves:Tyrell Jenkins will be on the mound when Atlanta concludes a 10-game road trip with Sunday's series finale against Washington at 1:35 p.m. ET. Jenkins has allowed just two earned runs over his past three starts, despite issuing 11 walks and recording nine strikeouts within this span.
Nationals: The Nats wrap up an eight-game homestand on Sunday against the Braves. Right-hander Tanner Roark (12-6, 2.88 ERA) will try and continue his success against Atlanta in his career. He owns a 1.84 ERA in eight career starts against the Braves.