MLB.com Columnist

Bill Ladson

Souza's first homer not enough as Nats fall in Atlanta

Rookie's solo blast gives Washington early lead, but Braves rally

Souza's first homer not enough as Nats fall in Atlanta

ATLANTA -- Although they are National League East champions, the Nationals are still playing for the best record in the NL, which would mean they would have home-field advantage until the World Series.

The Nationals got off to slow start in that regard Wednesday night as they lost, 3-1, to the Braves at Turner Field.

It was a game in which the Nationals played nothing but their backups, and Nationals manager Matt Williams decided to give left-hander Gio Gonzalez an extra day of rest and started right-hander Blake Treinen, who pitched five shutout innings, allowed three hits and struck out three.

"The goal out there was to get ahead of hitters, and I didn't do a good job getting a head of guys," Treinen said. "I did mix some pitches when I needed to. That's what I'm most happy about."

Treinen didn't know he was getting the start until Gonzalez informed him during the division-clinching celebration the previous day. Treinen wasn't caught by surprise.

"Don't think about it. Just do it," Treinen said. "I just tried to make the most of it. It's exciting for me to start a game."

Treinen has done everything the Nationals have asked him to do. He has been successful as a starter and reliever, going 2-3 with a 1.94 ERA in 14 games.

"I felt like I had a pretty good year. The goal was to come in, fill the void when they needed me to throw the rock. That's my job. I'm here to do the best that I can," Treinen said.

Treinen was given a 1-0 lead in the top of the fifth inning. With one out and Alex Wood on the mound, Steven Souza Jr. hit a long home run over the center-field fence for his first big league homer.

"That ball was hit a long way," Williams said. "He's got power to all fields. He had an incredible year in the Minor Leagues this year. When he was up here, he didn't get a whole lot of opportunities. He got some at-bats, but not a lot."

Wood, who earned the win with six-plus innings pitched, said it was a challenge to face the Nats on Wednesday.

"It's hard, because a lot of those guys I haven't faced and we didn't have a lot on them," Wood said. "Kind of the first time through, you're just feeling out what their approach is and then going from there. I thought I had all three [pitches] going for most of the night."

In the bottom of the sixth inning, Ross Detwiler was on the mound for Washington when disaster struck. The bases were loaded with one out. Christian Bethancourt hit a hard grounder off the glove of first baseman Tyler Moore, deflecting into shallow right field for a hit. Two runs scored on the play, while Jason Heyward scored on the throw home. Bethancourt then went to third on an error by Danny Espinosa, who was playing shortstop.

"You're always trying to be aware of your surroundings" Heyward said. "I saw the guy receiving the throw had his back turned. When I saw the throw go up out of [right fielder Nate Schierholtz's] hand, I said, 'Hey, I can get there,' and it worked out."

The Nationals (87-64) now go to Miami to play a four-game series against the Marlins. But no matter how one looks at it, the Nationals were able to beat the Braves when it counted. The Nationals won their second NL East title in three years.

"Early on [this season], they were really playing well," Williams said. "It's a question of us making some quality pitches, too, recently, and having our full team back. That helps, too. But [the Braves] have the ability to beat you at any time. They have a really powerful lineup, and one swing of the bat can change the landscape quickly."

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