Three times this season, Washington’s Dan Haren needed more than 90 pitches to get through five or fewer innings.
Against the aggressive Braves on Thursday, Haren required just 30 pitches to get through the first three innings, by which point he and the Nationals were well on their way to a 3-1 win and four-game series split at Turner Field.
Dan Uggla’s two-out homer in the seventh broke up the shutout bid by Haren (3-3), who pitched a season-high eight innings and allowed just four hits and one walk with four strikeouts — and did it in 90 pitches.
“He was throwing that cutter,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “He commanded it a lot better than what we’ve seen. We know he’s got it, but today he commanded it and we jumped on it early and we made quick outs, and there was one point I looked up in the seventh and I don’t think he had reached 60 pitches or 65 pitches.”
Kris Medlen (1-4) gave up three runs in the first two innings and lost his third consecutive start for the Braves, who’ve lost 10 of their past 15 games and seen their National League East lead reduced to 2 1/2 games over defending champion Washington.
Medlen settled in, got out of a few jams and didn’t allow any more runs in his seven innings. He was charged with seven hits and three walks and had a season-high eight strikeouts. He didn’t get much support at the plate, or in the field in the second inning when third baseman Chris Johnson misplayed a grounder into a two-run double.
“I’m tired of doing interviews postgame saying, ‘I just kept us in the game,’” Medlen said. “If I’d have cleaned it up from the get-to, I don’t give up any runs.”
After mustering two hits while being shut out 2-0 on Wednesday, the Braves didn’t get a hit Thursday until Freeman’s two-out single in the fourth inning. Medlen drew a third-inning walk to snap a string of 28 consecutive Braves retired going back to Wednesday.
The Braves had seven hits, one walk and one run over the past two games.
“Of course it’s frustrating,” Uggla said. “We didn’t have it these last two games. Zim pitched a great game yesterday, and Danny pitched a great game tonight. Our guys battled their butts off as well and pitched great games. We just didn’t give them any run support.”
Unlike Wednesday, when the Braves faced one of baseball’s hot pitchers in Jordan Zimmermann, this time they floundered against Haren, who entered with a 6.29 ERA and .355 opponents’ average.
Before Uggla hit his fifth homer, the Braves advanced two runners past first base and none to third.
The Nationals staked Haren to a 1-0 lead in the first inning when Denard Span led off with a double, advanced on a wild pitch and scored on Steve Lombardozzi’s single.
They added two more runs in the second inning, again starting with a double and single by the first two batters, Adam LaRoche and Anthony Rendon. Two outs later, Span hit a grounder down the third-base line that got past Johnson and initially was ruled a two-run error. The scorekeeper changed it to a two-run double, which seemed generous for Johnson.
“(Johnson) came in, and he said I straight booted that ball,” Gonzalez said. “It was off the end of the bat a little bit and it just kind of spun and got away from him a little bit. I’m sure in his mind he could probably make that play 99 out of 100 times.”
The Nationals won the last two games of the series, after losing nine in a row against the Braves, including five this season.
B.J. Upton was 10-for-31 with five homers against Haren before Wednesday, when the center fielder went hitless to extend his slump to 4-for-43 with 18 strikeouts in his past 12 games. He’s batting .134 and had a .485 OPS before Thursday, third-lowest among NL qualifiers. Uggla, who popped out with a runner on to end the game, is batting .167 with 37 strikeouts in 90 at-bats.
Gonzalez was asked before the game about sticking with that slumping duo almost every game.
“They’re trying to tinker, they’re working at it,” he said. “That’s why you’re in their corner when they struggle, or anybody struggles. If you’re working and putting the effort in, you’ve got to stay with your players, and (Upton) is doing that. Both of those guys (B.J. and Uggla) are doing that.
“Come September, B.J. is going to be right where he’s supposed to be, and Danny’s going to be where he’s supposed to be, and we won’t even remember April. You’ve got to be supportive. Again, if they’re doing their stuff they’re supposed to be doing and working, you’ve got to stay with them.”