ATLANTA — Freddie Freeman thought the Atlanta Braves would capitalize on an early exit by Washington ace Stephen Strasburg.
Instead, the Braves scored just once against the Nationals' bullpen in a 3-2 loss on Friday night.
Freeman accounted for both Atlanta runs. His fifth homer, a solo shot in the second, came off Strasburg, and his RBI single in the seventh came off Tyler Clippard. But Freeman credited Craig Stammen with setting the tone for the game after replacing Strasburg, who strained his right oblique, to start the third.
"He mowed right through us, and we weren't able to get to him," Freeman said. "But we got into the bullpen, so maybe that will help us out the next two games."
Atlanta managed just one baserunner in the seventh off Drew Storen, and nothing against Nationals closer Rafael Soriano in the ninth.
The Braves have lost two of three and five of six. Their lead over second-place Washington was trimmed to 4½ games.
For the Nationals, Stammen pitched four perfect innings, and Denard Span tripled twice and scored two runs to help Washington snap a two-game skid.
Strasburg left with a 2-1 lead. He allowed two hits and one run with no walks and two strikeouts. The Nationals are sending him back to Washington for an examination of his right oblique.
"He was complaining of discomfort warming up, and it was more severe than the last time out," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. "He's a gamer. He wanted to continue. But something like that — I'm not going to take a chance with his arm. That's the main concern."
Stammen (3-1) shut down the Braves by striking out three and allowing no baserunners through the sixth.
In the seventh, Clippard escaped a bases-loaded jam that he created by allowing Freeman's single that cut the lead to 3-2 and by hitting the next two batters he faced.
Clippard settled down, though, to strike out Dan Uggla and Chris Johnson.
"We couldn't put the ball in play and we couldn't hit a fly ball," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "That's just the way it goes sometimes."
Storen pitched a scoreless eighth for the Nationals, and closer Soriano converted his 15th save in 18 chances by retiring Freeman on a flyout, striking out B.J. Upton and getting Brian McCann to ground out in the ninth.
The Nationals took the lead in the first off Julio Teheran (3-2) when Span led off with a triple and scored on Steve Lombardozzi's sacrifice fly.
Washington went up 2-0 in the second. Roger Bernadina singled, advanced to third on Danny Espinosa's single and scored on Kurt Suzuki's fielder's choice RBI.
Stammen retired all 12 batters he faced. He was replaced by a pinch-hitter in the top of the seventh.
The Nationals took a 3-1 lead in the sixth when Span tripled again and scored on another sacrifice fly by Bernadina.
Teheran's night ended when Anthony Varvaro replaced him with a runner on second. Teheran allowed seven hits, three runs, one walk and a career-high nine strikeouts.
"With Strasburg going out, I thought we had a better chance, but Stammen came in and shut us down," Freeman said. "Against Clippard, we were able to get to him, but Storen and Soriano kind of shut us down. But it was a good game. It's always going to be close when we're playing each other."
NOTES: Freeman's RBI single raised his average with runners in scoring position to .487, best in the NL. ... Braves LF Justin Upton went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts. ... His struggling brother, B.J. Upton, entered the game as a pinch-runner in the seventh, and his average dropped to .145 with 62 strikeouts in 159 at-bats. ... Jason Heyward was in the leadoff spot for the second time in his four-year career and for the first time since June 27, 2011. He finished 0 for 4, dropping his average to .146. ... Nationals OF Bryce Harper missed his fifth straight game with left knee bursitis. Johnson said he won't play this weekend. ... Washington RF Jayson Werth is on a rehab assignment and hopes to return on Tuesday. ... The Nationals have won three straight against Atlanta after dropping nine consecutive to the Braves.