ATLANTA -- Just when it seemed like he was getting his act together on the mound, Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg took two steps back Friday night at Turner Field. He was hit hard, allowing seven runs on four homers, and Washington's comeback attempt fell just short in a 7-6 loss to the Braves.
The Nationals are now 3 1/2 games ahead of the Braves in the National League East race.
Atlanta shelled Strasburg (8-10) in the first two innings, scoring six runs. He had a tough time locating the ball. He was trying to keep it down, but it stayed up. During his career, Strasburg has had a tough time against Atlanta. In 15 starts, Strasburg is 3-6 with a 4.62 ERA.
"I can't put a finger on that," Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said. "He's got great stuff. The mistakes he makes, for some reason, we're able to hit them. That's what he did tonight. He left some pitches out over [the plate], and we were able to jump on him early."
In the first inning, Strasburg was able to get two quick outs, but then he walked Freeman and allowed a two-run homer to Justin Upton.
The following inning was even worse for Strasburg. With two outs and Braves pitcher Ervin Santana at first base, B.J. Upton hit a two-run homer to make it a 4-0 game. It was the second time this season that the Upton brothers have homered in the same game.
Tommy La Stella followed and singled to left field. Freeman was next and he swung at a 2-1 pitch from Strasburg and hit a long drive to right field. Steven Souza Jr. chased after the ball and collided with the wall at full speed as the ball went over the fence for a two-run homer.
Souza was on the ground for at least a minute, while manager Matt Williams, athletic trainer Lee Kuntz and several teammates came to his aide. Souza got up on his own power and was able to get an at-bat in the top of the third inning. He lined out hard to shortstop Ramiro Pena before he was taken out of the game because of left shoulder inflammation. As of now, he is not going on the disabled list.
"I think what kind of scared me was the speed that I was running at [as I was] coming down," Souza said. "The head is fine, everything is fine. I just jammed the shoulder pretty hard. I need a couple of days rest and it will be OK."
Kevin Frandsen replaced Souza and entered the game to play left field, while Bryce Harper moved from left to right.
"I didn't want to start giving away at-bats and just be a prideful player," Souza said. "Get someone in there who will have quality ABs. I was trying to play through it, trying to let the shoulder calm down. It just didn't work out."
Asked why he had such difficulty during the first two innings, Strasburg said, "I just didn't execute pitches when I needed to. I felt pretty good. The ball was up."
After the Freeman homer, Strasburg settled down, retiring the next seven hitters and striking out five. But Strasburg was tagged again in the fifth inning as La Stella hit a solo homer on a 2-1 pitch to make it a 7-0 game. Strasburg lasted five innings, allowing the seven runs on seven hits while striking out nine.
But Washington made it a game in the top of the sixth inning by scoring four runs off Santana. With runners on first and second, Asdrubal Cabrera singled to center field, scoring Scott Hairston. Anthony Rendon followed and hit a three-run homer over the left-center-field fence to cut the lead to three runs.
After a 71-minute rain delay, Washington made it a one-run game in the seventh inning off right-hander Anthony Varvaro. Wilson Ramos led off and hit a monster home run over the left-field wall. After Frandsen reached base on an error and advanced to third on a single by Denard Span, Cabrera hit a sacrifice fly.
But Braves relievers Jordan Walden and Craig Kimbrel stopped the bleeding, with Kimbrel picking up his 33rd save of the season.
"We were down early, but we fought back hard," Williams said. "An ordinary team would fold. Down that many runs early, it's easy to fold. Our guys don't do that. They fight until the end. They proved that once again tonight. So that's a good thing."
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.