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ATL@WSH: Teheran holds Nats to one run for win No. 9

WASHINGTON -- Julio Teheran entered this season faced with the challenge of proving he was ready for the Major League level. During the four months that have followed, Teheran has matured and proven to be one of the key reasons the Braves have a comfortable lead atop the National League East standings.

Teheran stood tall over six strong innings and Evan Gattis delivered a clutch two-run single that enabled the Braves to notch their 12th consecutive victory with Tuesday night's 2-1 win over the Nationals at Nationals Park.

"From Spring Training to where [Teheran] is now, he went from being a No. 5 to feeling out the league to a top-of-the-rotation starter," Braves catcher Brian McCann said. "I'd put him up against anybody."

With wins in the first two games of this three-game set, the Braves have increased their lead over the second-place Nationals to 14 1/2 games -- their largest division lead since Aug. 28, 2003. Atlanta was eight games in front of Washington before beginning this winning streak.

"I mean, when you lose a ballgame, it's always frustrating," Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper said. "The Braves are a great team and they've been playing great right now."

While any lingering intrigue surrounding this division race has steadily diminished over the past week, Harper made things interesting when he exchanged words with Teheran after being hit in the right thigh with a fastball in the fifth inning. It was the first pitch the Nationals outfielder had seen after taking his time to get around the bases after hitting a solo home run in the third inning.

As Harper stared and barked at Teheran while moving toward first base, McCann came out from behind the plate to protect his pitcher and was intercepted by home-plate umpire Joe West. Both benches and bullpens emptied. But nothing but words were exchanged.

While McCann and Freddie Freeman both acknowledged noticing Harper's slow trot around the bases, Teheran said he was unaware of it because he was concentrating on facing the next hitter.

"I was surprised," Teheran said of Harper's reaction. "I just was trying to get in there [with the fastball]. I didn't want to make a mistake like I did with the homer. That's how I hit him."

When asked if he was surprised to get hit with the pitch, Harper responded, "Uh, I hit that [home run] pretty far off him, so no, not really."

Harper's home run accounted for the only run Teheran surrendered while allowing four hits and throwing 90 pitches in six innings. Since getting his feet wet in his first two starts of the season, the 22-year-old right-hander has posted a 2.57 ERA in the 20 starts that have followed. He has allowed one or no earned runs in each of his past four outings.

Teheran was staring at potential trouble when Anthony Rendon opened the bottom of the fifth with a double. With first base open and one out, he plunked Harper and then seemed unfazed as he retired Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth to end the inning.

"I got upset because I didn't' want to hit him," Teheran said. "So when he said that to me, that's when I started working."

Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez retired eight straight batters before Teheran sent a double to right field with two outs in the third inning. After B.J. Upton delivered a one-out single and Andrelton Simmons walked in the fifth, Teheran aided his cause with a sacrifice bunt that moved both runners in position to score when Gattis drilled a first-pitch fastball to right field.

Gattis entered the contest in the first inning after Jason Heyward strained a neck muscle during the game's first at-bat. Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez was well aware of the oddity of placing these two large men in the leadoff spot during the same game.

"That might be the two biggest leadoff hitters ever, at least in one game," Gonzalez said. "Combined, you probably have about 500 pounds and a 6-foot-5 average."

After retiring the first two batters he faced in the seventh inning, Luis Avilan allowed the Nationals to load the bases with a Harper single and two walks. But Avilan escaped that threat when Adam LaRoche sent an inning-ending grounder directly to Freeman at first base.

One of the primary reasons the Braves have won nine of the 12 games played during this season series is their bullpen has not allowed a run in the 30 innings completed against the Nationals.

Craig Kimbrel preserved this dominant stretch when he concluded this latest victory by striking out each of the three batters he faced in the ninth. His final pitch was a 3-2 fastball that raced past Harper's bat.

"I think after the Harper situation, we really wanted to win this game," Freeman said. "For Julio to get out of that with a runner on first and second and just one out [in the fifth], that was a huge momentum shift to us after they got the crowd going a little bit."

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