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Clutch Joey Meneses, steady Tres Barrera lift Nationals past Braves

Nationals catcher Tres Barrera gives closer Kyle Finnegan some dap after the right-hander finished the ninth inning of a 3-2 win over the Braves, earning his 11th save. (Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)

ATLANTA — When catcher Keibert Ruiz went on the injured list Sept. 9, Manager Dave Martinez said that he’d split the remaining games behind the plate with a committee of Riley Adams, Israel Pineda and Tres Barrera.

In the 10 games before Wednesday’s 3-2 win over the Atlanta Braves, Adams started seven with Pineda handling the other three. Barrera, called up Sept. 1, was still waiting for his chance.

So on a day when Joey Meneses lifted the Nationals with a two-run homer in the seventh inning into the second deck at Truist Park to beat the defending World Series champions, there was Barrera, going 2 for 4 while adeptly handling five pitchers and 164 pitches behind the plate. The win allowed the Nationals (52-97) to salvage the finale of the three-game series.

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“I knew it was going to come at some point,” Barrera said about starting. “It’s part of it, and I just try to maintain and [stay] ready. Come with the same attitude like I was going to play every single day, and today was the day, and I had fun with it.”

The final few weeks of this season are an opportunity for Martinez to see who could fill the team’s backup catcher role to Ruiz. Adams, 26, has the most major league experience. Pineda could have the most upside offensively, but he’s just 22. Both have shown flashes of power — Adams at the major league level, though he’s hitting .193. Pineda has excelled in the minors after starting the year at high Class A Wilmington.

Barrera, 28, fits the mold of a more traditional, game-managing backup — strong defensively even if he lacks the pop at the plate. Barrera’s two hits Wednesday lifted his average to .216 (8 for 37, with just one extra-base hit and 11 strikeouts).

“Those guys that come off the bench and are only playing once or twice a week … their job is not really to go out there and hit home runs,” Martinez said. “Their job is to just get on base and do the little things right. And he did that today.”

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Barrera helped the Nationals’ pitching staff navigate the Braves (93-56), who put starter Paolo Espino in an early hole. Espino allowed a leadoff single in the first to Ronald Acuña Jr., who reached second later when Espino made an errant throw on a pickoff.

Espino walked Matt Olson with two outs. Then William Contreras’s swinging bunt between Espino and Barrera led to a throwing error on Espino that brought in Acuña.

An inning later, Acuña drove in a run with a two-out RBI single.

Barrera opened the third with an infield single that ended with him diving into first base; Barrera said after the game that his momentum carried him and he almost fell, so he slid to avoid embarrassing himself. His second at-bat also was a single, a blooper that fell in center field and put runners on the corners for the Nationals in the fifth. Lane Thomas hit a sacrifice fly to cut the Braves’ lead to 2-1.

Though Barrera’s stat line looked good, his exit velocities from his at-bats Wednesday tell a different story: 88.5 mph, 79.7 and 57.7 in his first three at-bats before a 94.9-mph fly out in the eighth inning.

But Barrera made his presence felt on the defense: Barrera threw out Vaughn Grissom stealing second to end the seventh after Carl Edwards Jr. struck out Dansby Swanson. Then he threw out Contreras in a rundown in the eighth.

“He did really well,” Martinez said. “Handled the pitching staff well, got a couple of hits. It’s just a testament about how he prepares and how he stays ready: gets an opportunity to play and comes through.”

What was Luke Voit’s final stat line in this series? Not great: 1 for 12 with a single, a walk and eight strikeouts. The Braves weren’t afraid to face the Nationals’ cleanup hitter throughout the series — they intentionally walked Meneses ahead of him to load the bases Tuesday, and Voit flew out to end the game. They did the same on Wednesday afternoon, and he grounded out to second base.

Martinez said he wants Voit to get back to hitting the ball to right-center field.

How is Patrick Corbin feeling after exiting with back spasms? Martinez said Corbin is still sore after exiting Tuesday’s game with back spasms. Corbin threw just 12 pitches before walking off the field with head trainer Paul Lessard. Martinez hopes he will feel better after a few more days of treatment.

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