Soto, Bell homers lead Padres past Nationals 2-1

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SAN DIEGO — Juan Soto and Josh Bell homered against their former team, leading the San Diego Padres to a much-needed 2-1 win over the Washington Nationals on Saturday night.

Soto’s solo shot off reliever Steve Cishek (1-4) to center field in the seventh inning proved to be the winner. Bell ended a 1-for-33 slump over eight-plus games with his first home run as a member of the Padres, a 415-foot blast to right-center to tie the game at 1 in the fifth.

“It felt really good. I put in a lot of work … hopefully the next 50 at-bats are better than the first 50,” Bell said of breaking his slump to start his tenure with the Padres. “It is fun playing against those guys (Nationals) over there. It’s a lot more fun now that I have gotten a hit against them. It got to the point where I felt myself pressing.”

The Padres had lost four of five, including the first two in the series, mostly because of their struggling offense.

“We really needed this win really bad to get back on track and get the team going,” Soto said. “Just the way we won today, we had a lot of traffic the whole game. It is a good way to start going.”

Even though San Diego scored just two runs, it was enough to back the strong pitching by starter Joe Musgrove, who allowed one run and four hits in six innings with seven strikeouts.

“One swing of the bat changes the game,” San Diego manager Bob Melvin said. “Now we have guys throughout the lineup that can do that. When you have good pitching and you are getting shut down a little bit, one mistake can be a game changer.”

San Diego’s bullpen also stepped up, keeping the Nationals scoreless over three innings. Adrian Morejon (3-0) earned the win by pitching scoreless seventh and eighth. Luis Garcia earned his third save of the season, pitching a scoreless ninth despite giving up a hit and hitting a batter. Earlier Saturday, San Diego gave Josh Hader a break from closing duties due to his recent struggles.

“We were trying to get two (innings) out of Morejon and close with Garcia today,” Melvin said. “It may look different tomorrow, but it worked today.”

The Nationals jumped out to a 1-0 lead after a solo homer by Lane Thomas (2 for 4) off Musgrove, who didn’t figure in the decision.

Musgrove started the season 8-0 and has gone 0-6 in his last 10 starts beginning on June 23rd.

“This time of the year it is starting to feel like every game is a must-win game,” Musgrove said. “We haven’t been playing our best baseball, really all year. We haven’t put it all together for a consistent stretch in time. It’s definitely not for a lack of effort.”

San Diego wasted a prime scoring chance in the bottom of the first with bases loaded on three walks against Washington starter Josiah Gray. However, Bell struck out swinging to end the inning and extinguished the Padres’ threat.

Gray worked five innings, allowing one run and four hits.

The Padres loaded the bases again in third inning with two outs, but Gray got out of it by getting Ha-Seong Kim to hit a hard line drive to left for the third out.

HADER DEMOTED AS PADRES CLOSER

Hader will not be the closer for the Padres after ninth-inning meltdowns on Thursday and Friday night led to losses.

“We will probably give him a break from that (closer) in the interim here, let him work on some things,” Melvin said before the game. “But, our best team, obviously, is with Josh Hader in the closer’s role and that’s why we got him. So, we will give him a little break for now.”

Melvin said the Padres closer role would be based on matchups game-by-game, basically closer by committee. The closer role in the short-term will likely be shared by Padres’ righties Luis Garcia and Robert Suarez and lefties Adrian Morejon and Nick Martinez.

PADRES CALL UP AZOCAR AND DESIGNATE MAZARA

On Saturday, the Padres recalled OF Jose Azocar from Triple-A El Paso and designated OF Nomar Mazara for assignment. Mazara filled in adequately as the team’s everyday right fielder during parts of the first half, but with the return of OF Wil Myers from injury, followed by the acquisition of OF Juan Soto, Mazara no longer had a path to starting games. Azocar was deemed more versatile off the bench than Mazara.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Padres: LHP Drew Pomeranz (flexor tendon surgery) is expected to return from the 60-day IL in early September. Pomeranz made his fifth rehab appearance on Aug. 19, pitching a scoreless inning for Triple-A El Paso.

UP NEXT

LHP Patrick Corbin (4-16, 6.96) starts for the Nationals on Sunday against the Padres LHP Sean Manaea (6-6, 4.83).

Braves sweep Mets, take 2-game lead in East with 3 remaining

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ATLANTA — Dansby Swanson and Matt Olson homered for the third straight game, Travis d'Arnaud hit a go-ahead two-run single in the third inning, and Atlanta Braves beat the New York Mets 5-3, completing a three-game sweep of their NL East rival and taking a two-game lead in the division with three games to play.

The defending World Series champion Braves have been chasing the Mets the entire season. In the final series of the season, any combination of one Atlanta win or one Mets loss would give the Braves their fifth straight division title.

New York plays its final three games of the season against worst-in-the-majors Washington. Atlanta closed out the regular season with a three-game set in Miami. Should the season end Wednesday in a tie, Atlanta would win the division after claiming the season series 10-9 with Sunday’s victory.

The Braves won five of the last six games in the series, outscoring the Mets 42-19 over that stretch. New York had a 10 1/2-game lead on June 1 but now is the lower in the standings than at any point this season.

It was a lost weekend for New York, which came to Atlanta hoping to clinch its first division title since 2015. Instead, aces Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer lost Friday and Saturday before 15-game winner Chris Bassitt lasted just 2 2/3 innings on Sunday.

Swanson took Bassitt deep to right-center in the first with his 25th homer, and Atlanta took charge with a three-run third. Bassitt (15-9) issued a bases-loaded walk to Olson before d’Arnaud delivered a single up the middle to score Ronald Acuna Jr. and Austin Riley for a 4-3 lead. That chased Bassitt, who was charged with four runs, three hits and three walks.

Olson connected for his 33rd homer to make it 5-3 leading off the sixth, his 410-foot shot landing in the seats in right-center. Olson, in his first year with Atlanta, surpassed 100 RBIs for the second straight season.

Charlie Morton stranded runners on first and second in the first, but he gave up Daniel Vogelbach‘s 18th homer that tied it at 1 in the second. The righty struck out Francisco Lindor with runners on first and second to end the threat.

Jeff McNeil went deep off Morton in the third and Vogelbach followed with an RBI single to put the Mets up 3-1. Morton entered the game having allowed 28 homers, sixth-most in the NL.

Morton scuffled throughout his start, giving up three runs and nine hits in 4 1/3 innings as the 38-year-old made his first start since signing a $20 million, one-year contract to remain with Atlanta next season.

Dylan Lee (5-1) relieved Morton and pitched 1 1/3 innings, leaving after a walk to Brandon Nimmo with two outs in the sixth. Collin McHugh entered and struck out Francisco Lindor.

Raisel Iglesias faced four batters in the seventh, A.J. Minter faced the minimum in the eighth and closer Kenley Jansen converted his third save of the series with a clean ninth.

Jansen leads the NL with 40 saves in 47 chances.

The Braves’ bullpen, which posted a 1.70 ERA last month, pitched 8 2/3 scoreless innings the last two nights.

BIG NUMBERS

Atlanta leads the NL with 241 homers. And the Braves have their first 100-victory season since 2003.

TWO, DARN HOT

McNeil went 3 for 5 and has multiple hits in five straight games. His average is .326, one point behind the Dodgers’ Freddie Freeman for the NL batting title. In 23 career games at Truist Park, McNeil is hitting .395 with 12 runs, nine doubles, two homers, seven RBIs and four walks. … Jansen tied Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley for eighth place on the career list with 389. He’s also is the 10th closer to have four different seasons with at least 40 saves.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Mets All-Star RF Starling Marte (right middle finger fracture) has yet to begin swinging or throwing. … Braves 2B Ozzie Albies (broken right pinky finger) is still wearing a cast. … Braves RHP Spencer Strider still has not thrown as he gets treatment on a sore left oblique.

ATTENDANCE

The Braves drew 42,713 in their regular season finale, the club’s 42nd sellout of the season. Overall. that’s 3,129,931 for the season – and the most tickets sold since 2000. In 2019, the team’s last full season before the COVID-19 pandemic, Atlanta drew 2,655,100.

UP NEXT

Mets: RHP Carlos Carrasco (15-7, 3.95 ERA) will face Nationals RHP Cory Abbott (0-4, 5.11).

Braves: RHP Bryce Elder (2-3, 2.76 ERA) will face Marlins LHP Jesus Luzardo (3-7, 3.53).