WASHINGTON — The expanded rosters in September allow for major league managers to make a series of moves in tight ballgames if they so desire.
And manager Dusty Baker certainly took advantage of his deep bench again Tuesday.
One day after using five bench players as starters, Baker used seven relievers and employed a pinch-runner and pinch-hitter in a winning sequence in the eighth inning as the first-place Washington Nationals defeated the Atlanta Braves 9-7.
“You have to match up early and save some (relievers) for late,” said Baker, after his club came back from a 4-1 deficit. “The power of positive thinking goes a long way in this game.”
Pinch-hitter Ben Revere dropped down a perfect bunt with two on and no outs in the eighth. Then led to a fielder’s choice, and pinch-runner Michael A. Taylor came around to score the go-ahead run from second when Atlanta catcher Tyler Flowers threw the bunt by Revere into left field for an error.
“He tried to make a play. I don’t fault that,” Atlanta interim manager Brian Snitker said of the throw by Flowers.
Trea Turner followed with a two-run single to make it 9-6 as the Nationals improved to 13-2 this season against Atlanta.
The first-place Nationals (81-57) remained 8 1/2 games ahead of the New York Mets in the National League East. The Braves (54-85) lost for just the second time in eight games one day after being eliminated from postseason play.
“That was a full team effort today,” Baker said. “We played a good game. It was a big win for us to come back and win like that.”
The winning pitcher was Koda Glover (2-0), who retired his only two batters in the eighth, while Ramirez (2-2) suffered the loss. Closer Mark Melancon pitched the ninth and recorded his ninth save while with the Nationals despite allowing an RBI single to Dansby Swanson.
Atlanta got two hits each from Flowers, Ender Inciarte and Adonis Garcia. Daniel Murphy had three hits for the Nationals and Bryce Harper had two. Swanson had two hits and drove in three runs for the Braves, including a solo inside-the-park homer in the second inning.
“The ball kept carrying. That was pretty cool,” Snitker said.
Garcia had an RBI double and Matt Kemp drove in a run with a groundout as the Braves took a 2-0 lead in the first.
Braves rookie Swanson got the first homer of his big-league career in the second to make it 3-0. It was an inside-the-park shot in his 56th career at-bat and it went over the head of Turner, who was making just his 14th start in center field in the majors.
“That was a tough play,” Baker said.
Swanson was the first Atlanta player since Paul Runge in 1985 to hit an inside-the-park homer for his first career homer.
Washington starter Gio Gonzalez had an RBI single in the second to cut the lead to 3-1.
But the Braves responded in the third as Freddie Freeman had an RBI single to make it 4-1 and extend his hitting streak to 13 straight games.
Rendon responded in the last of the third with the first grand slam of his career to put the Nationals up 5-4. The homer to left came on an 0-2 pitch and was his 17th long ball of the season.
“Anthony has been great,” said Baker, who plans to give the third baseman a rare day off Wednesday.
Two batters later, Zimmerman hit a solo homer to right to build the margin to 6-4 against Atlanta starter Williams Perez, who was lifted after allowing six runs in 2 1/3 innings.
“The actions of his secondary pitches hurt him more than anything. We are kind of asking a lot of him. He was not real sharp. The fastball command was not good,” Snitker said.
Swanson trimmed the lead to 6-5 in the fourth when he drove in a run with a groundout. Then Atlanta reliever Joel De La Cruz singled in a run to tie the game at 6.
Gonzalez gave up six runs in three innings plus two batters but also did not figure in the decision. Gonzalez had won all four of his decisions in August and was 6-1 with a 3.02 ERA in his 10 previous starts.
“My ball was not as sharp, did not have as much bite to it,” Gonzalez said. “It was an unfortunate night. We got Rendon’s first career grand slam; that is pretty impressive. It was a good win.”
NOTES: The Nationals called up RHP Lucas Giolito and INF Wilmer Difo from Triple-A Syracuse before the game. … Atlanta CF Ender Inciarte had a single in the first to extend his hitting streak to 17 games, the longest active streak in the majors. … Braves 1B Freddie Freeman was named the National League Player of the Week for the week ending Sunday. He hit .400 (8-for-20) and had a slugging average of .850 during the week. … Washington RHP Stephen Strasburg (15-4, 3.59) threw on the flat ground in the outfield before the game. He has been on the disabled list since Aug. 22, retroactive to Aug. 21, with right elbow soreness and will pitch Wednesday, according to manager Dusty Baker … Atlanta RHP Mike Foltynewicz (8-5, 4.31) is slated to pitch Wednesday against Washington. … Atlanta RHP Matt Wisler (strained left oblique) played catch before Tuesday’s game and interim manager Brian Snitker is hopeful he will be able to pitch in the coming week or so. Wisler is 6-11 with a 4.76 ERA in 23 games, with 22 starts.