Braves backup catcher Gerald Laird hugs closer Craig Kimbrel after the Braves snapped a four-game losing streak with a win Monday against the Nationals.
Want To Go or Watch?
WHO: Washington Nationals at Atlanta Braves.
WHAT: Series finale between NL East rivals.
WHEN: 7 p.m. today.
WHERE: Turner Field.
TV: Sports South.
ATLANTA — After playing 16 of 18 games on the road, the Braves couldn’t have been happier to finally get home Monday and out of the cold.
Now the team has to heat back up and start winning again, like they did Monday when Atlanta opened its seven-game homestand with a 3-2 victory vs. Stephen Strasburg and the Washington Nationals.
“I’m glad for us to get back in the win column and get a save,” said closer Craig Kimbrel, who pitched a 1-2-3 ninth to secure his ninth save — second-best in the National League.
Wins had been hard to come by before Monday.
The Braves finished off their first road trip of 2013 with a three-game sweep in Washington, and they were 12-1 overall when they ran their winning streak to 10 games with a victory in the opener of a two-game home series with Kansas City.
However, the streak ended the next day when Kansas City’s pitching staff mowed down Atlanta, 1-0. Atlanta then went on a 10-game road trip — and it was ugly. The Braves went 3-7, culminating Sunday night in pouring down rain in Detroit as the Tigers completed a three-game sweep.
Other than two wins in a makeup doubleheader in sub-freezing temperatures at Colorado after a snowout, little went right for the Braves (15-9) as their record strikeout pace rose and their pitching fell off considerably.
The Nationals (13-12) came into Atlanta trailing the Braves by 2 1/2 games in the National League East.
The deficit for Washington grew after Monday.
The Atlanta bullpen retired all 11 batters it faced, and the Braves snapped a four-game losing streak.
Jordan Walden, Eric O’Flaherty and Craig Kimbrel pitched 3 2/3 perfect innings as the Braves beat the Nationals for the eighth straight time.
“The bullpen was terrific,” Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “The bullpen was the key to the game. Walden gave us a clean seventh, and O’Flaherty and Kimbrel do what they always do, which is give us a chance to win.”
The Atlanta bullpen has allowed only 59 hits and 17 runs in 74 innings (2.07). The relievers have allowed only four of 26 inherited runners to score.
The win increased the Braves’ lead in the NL East to 3 1/2 games over the Nationals, who have lost two straight. Dan Uggla was hitless in 10 at-bats in the three-game series at Detroit but bounced back with a pair of hits against Washington ace Stephen Strasburg. Uggla is now 11-for-23 lifetime against Strasburg after going 2-for-3 on Monday.
Walden (1-0) entered the game with one out in the sixth inning in relief of starter Julio Teheran. With runners on first and second, Walden struck out Chad Tracy and got Kurt Suzuki to fly out to end the threat. After Andrleton Simmons gave Atlanta the lead with a sacrifice in the seventh, Atlanta’s bullpen took over.
“Walden was spectacular,” Kimbrel said. “He had that changeup going. The batters looked like they didn’t know he had it.”
The Braves outscored the Nationals, 18-5, during the series in Washington, but it’s offense has slowed considering since then as evidenced by Monday’s low-scoring, 3-2 win.
Of the Braves’ 35 runs on the road trip, 10 came in one game at Colorado. And Atlanta pitchers allowed 53 runs — 25 in the sweep by the Tigers.
The Braves struck out 18 times in a 10-0 loss on Friday in Detroit, and they led for just a half-inning during the series, losing the final two games, 7-4, and 8-3.
The Braves struck out 39 times in their three-game sweep at Detroit, the most for the club since 1900. Atlanta batters fanned 11 times Monday, but they still managed to get the win.
The only good news for the Braves is that they are still in first place despite such a road-heavy April schedule. After a week-long homestand — ending with four games against the Mets at Turner Field starting Thursday — Atlanta heads back on the road for 10 more games, beginning Monday at the Cincinnati Reds.
So far, the Braves’ 16 road games are three more than any other team has played and seven more than the Nationals’ total. No other team has played fewer home games than Atlanta.
MCCANN LOOKING GOOD IN MINOR-LEAGUE REHAB ASSIGNMENT: At the plate, Brian McCann looks ready to rejoin the Braves. Behind it, however, his recovery from right shoulder surgery remains a work in progress.
McCann homered in his first at-bat for Class A Rome on Friday and, after a walk, connected for a second two-run shot in his third plate appearance. But the game at Greensboro to start his minor league rehab assignment also showed that the catcher’s throwing still needs work.
McCann tossed the ball into center field twice, committing errors on half of Greensboro’s four stolen bases in as many attempts in his six innings behind the plate.
The Braves have said all along that throwing would be McCann’s final hurdle, and that is obviously the case. He had surgery last Oct. 16, and his rehab assignment in the minors was delayed about a week when he developed soreness in his right wrist.
McCann served as the designated hitter for Rome on Saturday and had an RBI double, making him 3-for-7 with two walks and five RBI in the first two games.
Rome was rained out Sunday and played a doubleheader Monday, with McCann catching the first game.
If all goes well on his minor league rehab, McCann could be ready to rejoin the Braves early in their 10-game road trip that starts May 6 in Cincinnati. He is expected to need at least half of the maximum 20-day rehab time.
McCann is scheduled to stick with Rome through a home game today, then join Triple-A Gwinnett on Thursday to start a four-game home series with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
McCann, a six-time National League All-Star and Silver Slugger winner, had shoulder issues most of last season and finished with his worst year offensively. He hit .230 with 20 homers and 67 RBI in 121 games.
Rookie Evan Gattis has been doing the bulk of the catching in McCann’s absence with Gerald Laird mostly just working with rookie starter Julio Teheran. Despite slumping after a hot start, Gattis is scheduled to stay with the Braves after McCann’s return and will be available to fill in at first base or left field as well as catch.
BEACHY ON TRACK: RHP Brandon Beachy threw batting practice this past Sunday, the second time he’s done that in three days. The club plans to have Beachy throw batting practice two or three more times, then have him start a rehab assignment. Beachy is expected to return in late June after undergoing Tommy John surgery last summer.
RECORD BELONGS TO JUSTIN UPTON: Justin Upton has the club-record 12 home runs in April, breaking the old mark shared by Andres Galarraga and Ryan Klesko. He is two home runs shy of the major league record shared by Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols. Upton didn’t hit his 12th home run last season until Sept. 1, his 122nd game and 441st at-bat.
CJ TOPS IN BIG LEAGUES: Chris Johnson went hitless Monday, but is still batting .393 (24 for 61) over his last 15 games for the best average in the majors. He has 10 multi-hit games, tied for fourth-best in the National League. Johnson has been held without a hit only three times in his last 15 starts.
WHAT’S UP WITH B.J. UPTON?: CF B.J. Upton was given the night off Sunday by Gonzalez — just the second game he’s missed this season. Unlike his brother Justin, B.J. has struggled throughout the month, hitting .146 and striking out 31 times in 89 at-bats. Upton went 0-for-3 in Monday’s win, while his replacement Jordan Schafer wasn’t much better, going 0-for-5 on Sunday.
Blake DeWitt (lower back strain) went on the 15-day disabled list April 20. He missed most of the second half of last season with back issues .... SS Paul Janish (left shoulder surgery in October 2012) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to March 22. He began a rehab assignment with Triple-A Gwinnett on April 15. He has an option remaining, and he will likely stay with Gwinnett after the rehab stint unless an opening develops in Atlanta ... RHP Cristhian Martinez (right shoulder inflammation) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to April 7. ... pitcher Jonny Venters (left elbow sprain) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to March 27. He will be shut down for four weeks and isn’t expected to pitch again until late May or early June. He had to leave a spring game against the Tigers on March 26, and he received a platelet-rich plasma injection from Dr. James Andrews on April 2 after an MRI was inconclusive. He is scheduled to begin a throwing program April 30 and hopes it will lead to his return before the end of May.