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Braves fall to Nationals to increase deficit in NL East
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Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Mike Minor pitches during the third inning of Monday's game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park in Washington. - photo by Alex Brandon

Braves at Nationals

When: 7:05 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Nationals Park, Washington, D.C.

Pitchers: Braves, RHP Ervin Santana (14-7, 3.61 ERA); RHP Jordan Zimmerman (10-5, 2.93).

TV, radio: SportSouth; 99.3-FM, 1240-AM

WASHINGTON — Mired in an offensive funk, the last pitcher the Atlanta Braves wanted to see was Washington's Doug Fister.

In his best outing since mid August, Fister pitched seven shutout innings on Monday night, and the Braves' late rally fell short in a 2-1 loss to the Nationals in the opener of a three-game series between the NL East's top two clubs.

"He's a guy that, it sinks and it cuts, and every once in a while he throws an old-fashioned curveball at you," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said of Fister (13-6, 2.53 ERA). "He doesn't give you a good look at him."

Freddie Freeman had two hits and singled in a run off reliever Matt Thornton to bring the Braves within 2-1 in the eighth inning.

Drew Storen struck out the side in the ninth for his second save in two days as the Braves fell eight games behind Washington. Atlanta trails Pittsburgh by 1½ games for the second NL wild card.

Mike Minor (6-10) allowed two runs and seven hits in six-plus innings for the Braves. He has allowed three runs or fewer while pitching at least into the seventh inning in six consecutive starts.

But Monday marked his third loss in that stretch, the last two coming during a nine-game span in which the Braves have scored only 16 runs.

"We have guys that can hit the ball in the gap or hit the ball out of the ballpark," Gonzalez said. "It's just not happening for us right now."

Fister has pitched 15 innings in two starts against Atlanta without allowing a run. He yielded two singles and three walks on Monday, struck out three and retired 13 of 14 during one stretch. He didn't let a runner beyond first base until the seventh inning.

He had an uncharacteristic rough patch before Monday, allowing 11 earned runs during his last three starts.

"We felt good, to be honest with you, as a group going up to the plate," said Braves right fielder Jason Heyward, who was 0 for 3 against Fister. "I feel like we were just missing barrels, and that's kind of what he does."

Protecting a 1-0 lead in the seventh, Fister sandwiched walks to Freeman and Tommy La Stella around a pair of flyouts. After a visit from manager Matt Williams, he then got Andrelton Simmons to ground into an inning-ending fielder's choice.

Washington added a run in the bottom half when Anthony Rendon grounded to second with runners on the corners and one out. La Stella bobbled the ball briefly, and Rendon beat Simmons' relay throw from second as pinch-runner Jeff Kobernus scored from third.

The Nationals nicked Minor for three singles in the first, with Desmond's hit scoring Rendon to make it 1-0.

"I feel like they snuck out one of those runs in the first with a couple balls off the end of the bat," Minor said, "but it was good hitting on their part."

TRAINER'S ROOM

Braves C Evan Gattis (strep throat) was out of the lineup. Gonzalez said Gattis was resting at the team's hotel and taking antibiotics. He was unsure if Gattis will play in the series.

UP NEXT

RHP Ervin Santana (14-7, 3.61) makes his third 2014 start against the Nationals on Tuesday. He is 1-1 with a 5.25 ERA against them, allowing seven runs over 12 innings.

SORIANO READY TO RETURN

Williams said struggling closer Rafael Soriano threw a good bullpen session Monday and is available to pitch. The manager gave Soriano the weekend off after he blew a save Friday night, his fifth since the All-Star break. Williams said for now he'll continue to choose from among Soriano, Storen, Tyler Clippard and Thornton in late-inning situations. Atlanta's Gonzalez noted: "I know you call it closer by committee, but it's a pretty good committee. It's not like it's chopped liver."

QUALITY ARMS

Minor's outing was the Atlanta staff's NL-leading 100th quality start of the season. The Dodgers were second with 93 entering Monday night. It is the 12th time Braves starters have reached 100 since 1914, and eighth since the team moved to Atlanta in 1966.

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