Aníbal Sánchez has seen enough in 14 years in the majors to know when his team needs a lift.
He provided one Sunday, pitching seven sharp innings to help the Washington Nationals prevent a three-game sweep and beat the NL East-leading Atlanta Braves 7-0.
“I think that’s what we needed right now,” Sánchez said. “I think every game we win right now is really important for us.”
Washington manager Dave Martinez left in the middle of the game. Bench coach Chip Hale, who took over for Martinez, said the second-year manager was not feeling well and was taken to a hospital for precautionary reasons. The Nationals anticipate he will rejoin the club in St. Louis for the start of a three-game series Monday.
“I know he’ll be in St. Louis,” Hale said. “We’re expecting him.”
Howie Kendrick homered and drove in three runs for Washington, which clinched its eighth winning season in a row. The Nationals held their position atop the NL wild card standings, remaining 1½ games ahead of the Cubs and 2½ games in front of Milwaukee.
Atlanta’s magic number to clinch the NL East remained at four. The Braves were shut out for the fourth time, the fewest in the NL.
Sánchez (9-8) worked seven innings, scattering three hits and a walk while striking out three and not allowing a runner past second base. Coupled with Tuesday’s seven innings of two-run ball at Minnesota, it was the first time this season Sánchez pitched more than six innings in consecutive starts.
Sánchez, who signed with the Nationals after spending last season with Atlanta, is 3-0 with a 3.41 ERA in five starts against the Braves. Washington, however, struggled against the division leaders, going 8-11 this season and only winning one series.
Seeking to tie Washington’s Stephen Strasburg for the NL lead in victories, Atlanta’s Max Fried instead had his shortest outing since May 7. He surrendered two-run singles to Yan Gomes in the second and Kendrick in the third.
“He actually made a really good pitch there and honestly, I was trying to foul it off and it just snapped my bat and I stayed through it and was able to get a hit there,” Kendrick said. “I never discount any of these guys. They’re in the major leagues, so all the guys are good, but he’s one of those special guys and he has great stuff. Today, he was just off.”
Fried exited with the bases loaded, and reliever Jeremy Walker immediately walked Victor Robles to force in a run.
Fried (16-6) allowed five runs on six hits and three walks in 2 1/3 innings as the Braves failed to complete their first sweep of the Nationals since 2014 and first sweep in Washington since 2013.
“I think it’s just one of them days,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “I think he was trying like hell to make everything happen, and it just wasn’t happening for him. He kind of lost it there.”
Kendrick added a solo shot off reliever Grant Dayton in the fifth. The 36-year-old has 15 homers on the season, his most since smashing a career-high 18 in 2011.
Braves: INF/OF Charlie Culberson broke multiple facial bones when he was hit by a 91 mph pitch from Washington’s Fernando Rodney on Saturday and will miss the rest of the season. He will not require surgery. “It’s probably about a best-case scenario, really,” Snitker said. “All the fractures and everything are not displaced. It’s things that will heal. He’s got to be careful for a while as far as his activity. But he’ll be here with us, which is a really good thing.”
Nationals: C Kurt Suzuki (right elbow inflammation), who has not played since Sept. 7, has been swinging a bat but has yet to throw. Martinez said Suzuki will try to hit on the field Monday or Tuesday. … 1B Matt Adams (AC sprain) remains day to day. Adams has not played since Thursday.
Atlanta OF Matt Joyce was ejected by home plate umpire Bill Welke for arguing a called third strike in the fifth inning. It was his first ejection of the season and fifth of his career.
Braves: Atlanta has Monday off. The Braves have not announced their starting pitcher for Tuesday’s game against Philadelphia, the opener of a six-game homestand.
Nationals: Strasburg (17-6, 3.49 ERA), who is 3-2 with a 2.48 ERA in seven career starts against St. Louis, gets the ball Monday as Washington begins its final trip of the regular season.
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