Braves-Nationals Preview

The Associated Press

The Atlanta Braves have dashed out to the best start in the majors and their best in nearly two decades, but their next opponent has opened this season almost as strongly.

The Braves visit the nation's capital Friday night to open a three-game series against the Washington Nationals in a battle of NL East heavyweights.

Atlanta is 8-1 for the first time since winning 13 of 14 to begin the 1994 season and opened its first road trip of the season with a sweep of Miami. Evan Gattis hit a three-run shot and Jordan Schafer had four hits in the Braves' sixth straight win Wednesday.

"It's good momentum," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "Winning is always good. It's a good feeling. It's early, but you want to be the guy in front all the time."

The Braves will next face the team that finished in front of them in the NL East last season. The defending division champions improved to 7-2 and earned their sixth straight home win Thursday, 7-4 over the Chicago White Sox. Bryce Harper, batting .417 with eight RBIs, and Ryan Zimmerman each drove in two runs as their team added to its second-best home start in franchise history.

The Montreal Expos won their first nine home games in 1981.

"It will be an exciting series. They are throwing three pretty good pitchers against us. So it will be a nice test for us offensively," Gonzalez told the team's website.

Ross Detwiler is the first of those, and he'll try to build on a stellar season debut. The left-hander gave up one unearned run over six innings at Cincinnati on Saturday but the Nationals' bullpen blew a four-run lead in a 7-6, 11-inning win.

"He was outstanding. He stayed within himself and made great pitches," manager Davey Johnson said.

The Braves' Julio Teheran wasn't nearly as sharp in his season debut, giving up five runs over five innings to the Chicago Cubs on Saturday, but he avoided the loss when his team rallied for a 6-5 victory.

Teheran, considered one of Atlanta's top prospects, is 1-1 with a 5.79 ERA in five major league starts and has never faced the Nationals.

"He had a really good spring (1.04 ERA in six starts), but that's still his first outing under the lights," catcher Gerald Laird told the team's official website. "He wants to make a good impression. Sometimes, you can try to do too much. But for the most part, I thought he threw the ball fine. I thought he just made some mistakes."

Detwiler has a 1.96 ERA over his last three starts against the Braves but only got enough run support to win one of those.

Justin Upton, hitting .353 with an NL-best six homers in his first nine games with Atlanta, is 2 for 11 against Detwiler. Freddie Freeman, batting .412, has also struggled versus Detwiler, going 3 for 17.

The Braves won their final four games against Washington in 2012 after losing 10 of their first 14.

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