Nationals move on to play Braves after opening sweep

ATLANTA — The Washington Nationals took advantage of the rebuilding Atlanta Braves in 2015 and 2016, going 29-9 and winning all except one of 20 games at home.

The series edge in 2017 was just 10-9, though, and the Braves were 6-4 at Nationals Park.

The teams begin the first of two series in the next 10 days on Monday night at SunTrust Park and the Braves are hopeful that they can start to close the National League East gap with the Nationals in the fourth season of their rebuild.

Left-hander Sean Newcomb, who reached Atlanta last June, will start the opener of the three-game series against Nationals right-hander Tanner Roark.

The Nationals completed a sweep of the Reds in Cincinnati on Sunday, winning 6-5 as left fielder Adam Eaton, who missed most of last season after knee surgery, finished the three games 8-for-13 with seven runs scored and two homers.

Eaton followed five straight hits on Saturday with a leadoff single in the series finale to give him six in a row, and right fielder Bryce Harper belted two homers and made a sliding catch.

The Braves, who were idle Sunday, routed the Philadelphia Phillies 15-2 on Saturday for an opening-series victory that could have been a sweep if an apparent tiebreaking run on Friday hadn’t been overturned by video review.

“It’s always going to be good to win a series,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “We were a slide away from sweeping the series. It’s a good way to start. We played some good baseball. Everybody played a part. It was a good opening series.”

The Braves, coming off three consecutive seasons with at least 90 losses, won the season opener on a walk-off three-run homer by Nick Markakis and scored 27 runs in the three games.

Newcomb, 24, had his good and bad moments as he experienced inconsistent command in 19 starts as a rookie last year, going 4-9 with a 4.33 ERA. He struck out 108 in 100 innings but walked 57.

Newcomb lost his only start against the Nationals, giving up four hits and four runs in four innings while walking four and striking out seven.

Roark, 31, fell to 13-11 last season after going 18-10 in 2016 and saw his ERA jump from 2.83 to 4.67.

The Braves were one of the teams turning the tables on Roark. He is 6-3 with a 2.88 ERA in 19 lifetime games against Atlanta, but was 1-2 with a 5.87 ERA in four outings last year.

In hopes of getting back on track, Roark has gone to a modified windup that has him pitching with his back toward first base as if in the stretch.

“It feels simple. What I want out of mechanics,” Roark said during spring training. “You have a tendency to think too much sometimes. Sometimes if you get stuck in a rut or keep overthinking it just adds, adds, adds. So, simplifying mechanics, you can find easy fixes.

“You don’t have to think too much. You don’t have to worry about much. If something is off mechanics-wise, it should be an easy fix.”

The Nationals and Braves will have two of their six series this year finished by the time the season is two weeks old. They play April 9-11 in Washington.