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Santana roughed up early; Braves fall 9 games back in NL East after 6-4 loss to Nationals

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WASHINGTON — In theory, the Atlanta Braves still have a chance to catch the NL East-leading Washington Nationals.

The reality of the past two nights makes that highly unlikely.

Atlanta starter Ervin Santana was roughed up for four runs in the first inning, and the Nationals essentially put to rest any thought that there is still a serious race for the division title with a 6-4 win on Tuesday night.

By losing the first two games in the series, the Braves fell nine games behind the Nationals with only 17 games remaining.

Atlanta has lost six of eight.

"You can't fully give up. We still have a chance," Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said. "Once we're fully eliminated from the division race, then we'll worry about the wild card.

"We've got four games against the Nats in the next seven games, and if we can play some good baseball against them we can get right back in this division race. And you never know what can happen in the last few weeks."

Atlanta had dominated the Nationals head-to-head for about a year and a half, but the Nationals have put the kibosh on that trend by winning five of the last seven meetings.

Six of the first seven Nationals reached base against Santana (14-8) on Tuesday night, and the one who didn't, bunted a runner over.

PHOTO: Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Ervin Santana pauses on the mound during the second inning of a baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park, Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2014, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Ervin Santana pauses on the mound during the second inning of a baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park, Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2014, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

"They were really, really aggressive on the first couple of pitches in every at bat," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "Usually those balls, when they do that against him, he gets quick outs. But today they found the outfield grass."

Santana settled down somewhat after his long first inning and stuck around through five. He gave up five runs, eight hits and four walks to fall to 7-2 since the All-Star break for the Braves, who remain in a crowded race for an NL wild card berth.

"I was happy with my performance," Santana said. "It was just one bad inning, and it wasn't that bad because I make my pitches and they still hit it. It was one of those days."

Nationals starter Jordan Zimmermann (11-5) allowed four runs (two earned) with seven strikeouts and no walks in six innings. He hasn't lost a decision since July 11 and is 5-0 — and the Nationals are 8-0 — in his last eight starts.

"We scored four runs off a pretty darn good pitcher," Gonzalez said. "I feel like we always swing the bats well, we just don't get any runs at times."

GONZALEZ ON KERSHAW

Gonzalez offered a random thought on Clayton Kershaw, wondering if the Dodgers lefty has become too dominant for the usual set of stats: "I think you start counting how many hard foul balls he gives up instead of counting ERA. Six hard hit balls in foul territory."

TRAINER'S ROOM

Braves: C Evan Gattis (strep throat) remained at the team's hotel for the second day in a row. Gonzalez said Gattis could return Friday for the opener of a three-game series in Texas. ... 2B Tommy La Stella was scratched from the starting lineup with a migraine, but he appeared as a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning.

UP NEXT

Atlanta's Aaron Harang (10-10, 3.87 ERA) faces Washington's Stephen Strasburg (11-10, 3.43) on Wednesday as the Nationals go for the sweep in the three-game series.

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