Two-way star: Braves’ Ynoa hits slam, slams door on Nats

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Huascar Ynoa

Atlanta Braves’ Huascar Ynoa watches his grand slam during the sixth inning of baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park, Tuesday, May 4, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Braves may not have the next Shohei Ohtani on their hands, but for one night, Huascar Ynoa outdid even the majors’ most potent two-way threat.

Ynoa hit a grand slam and pitched seven stress-free innings, leading Atlanta to a 6-1 victory over the Washington Nationals on Tuesday night.

“Truth be told, I’ve put a lot of work into my hitting,” Ynoa said through a translator. “I don’t go into any of these at-bats trying to hit a home run.

“All I’m trying to do is really get a hit and get on base, and let the actual hitters do most of the damage.”

Ynoa looked the part of an actual hitter in all three of his at-bats. The muscular 22-year-old put the ball in play twice against Nationals starter Joe Ross, forcing Ross to throw 11 pitches.

Then in the sixth inning, Ynoa blasted a fastball from reliever Tanner Rainey 427 feet to center field, extending his left arm on the follow-through like a polished slugger, to give Atlanta a 6-0 lead.

It was the first grand slam by a major league pitcher since Cincinnati’s Anthony DeSclafani on June 23, 2018, and Ynoa became the first pitcher in Braves history to homer in consecutive starts. He is hitting .385 (5 for 13) this season, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be batting higher in the lineup or start at designated hitter anytime soon.

“It’s kind of a small sample size,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He’s got to learn how to really hit breaking balls. I doubt he’ll see many fastballs going forward.”

While Ohtani homered in his first of three mound starts this season and has nine home runs while playing mostly at designated hitter, he has yet to pitch more than five innings in a game.

Ynoa (3-1), who came in with the lowest ERA among Atlanta starters, allowed an unearned run in the seventh and four hits total, having little trouble against a Washington lineup that’s still missing Juan Soto and hasn’t gotten much out of free-agent signees Josh Bell and Kyle Schwarber.

“He just is throwing the ball really well. We keep saying he has come a long way and continued to improve,” Snitker said. “He’s got no fear and he’s got weapons.”

Ronald Acuña Jr. hit his major-leading 10th homer of the season for the Braves, taking a slow dance around the bases to break a scoreless tie in the fifth. He hit the ball hard every time he swung the bat against Ross (2-2), lining a single on the right-hander’s first pitch and getting robbed by center fielder Victor Robles on a deep drive in the third.

“The way it was hit, it was a rocket,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “(Robles) goes back and catches the ball over his shoulder like that, it was a heck of a play.”

Atlanta stopped a four-game skid while ending Washington’s four-game winning streak, which had bumped the Nationals into first place in the underachieving NL East.

Ross worked 5 1/3 innings, allowing two runs on five hits with two walks and three strikeouts. He left with two men on and Rainey gave up William Contreras’ run-scoring single. Rainey walked Pache before he grooved the 0-1 fastball to Ynoa, who didn’t miss.

“It was something he could handle and he obviously put a good swing on it,” Rainey said.

SLUMPING BRAVES SLUGGERS

Reigning NL MVP Freddie Freeman went 0 for 4 and struck out twice as his batting average dropped to .208. Marcell Ozuna lined out to the warning track in both left and right on an 0-for-5 night, dipping to .195.

“Poor Ozuna, he’s strung some balls the last week and doesn’t have anything to show for it,” Snitker said.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Braves: OF Guillermo Heredia, on the 10-day injured list with right hamstring inflammation, has been throwing and hitting soft-toss but hasn’t done any running yet, Snitker said.

Nationals: Soto, activated Tuesday from the IL, struck out as a pinch-hitter in the eighth. He is still recovering from a strained left shoulder and isn’t ready to play the outfield yet, Martinez said. … RHP Will Harris, reinstated from the IL on Tuesday, made his season debut, striking out two in a scoreless eighth.

ROSTER MOVE

The Braves recalled infielder Sean Kazmar Jr. from their alternate training site after optioning right-hander Sean Jones there a day earlier. Kazmar had an earlier stint with Atlanta this season after being out of the majors since 2008.

UP NEXT

Braves left-hander Max Fried (0-1, 11.45 ERA) will come off the 10-day injured list to start Wednesday. Fried has been out since April 14 with a strained right hamstring and will likely be limited to 75 or 80 pitches, Snitker said. Right-hander Erick Fedde (2-2, 4.43) starts for Washington.

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