Braves’ winning streak vs. Nationals ends


Braves’ winning streak vs. Nationals ends

Braves pitcher Paul Maholm made one costly mistake pitch Wednesday night, but with Jordan Zimmermann pitching for the Nationals that was one too many.

Ian Desmond hit a two-run homer in fourth inning, and Zimmermann allowed two hits in eight innings of a 2-0 Washington win at Turner Field, snapping the Braves’ nine-game winning streak against their National League East rival.

Zimmermann had no walks and eight strikeouts and retired the last 17 batters he faced.

“He had his fastball going,” said Justin Upton, one of only two Braves to reach base, on a first-inning single. “He mixed in everything a little, but for the most part he was just pounding the zone with his fastball, and we were behind it all night.

“He had his stuff, and we got beat by it.”

The Braves had won all five games between the teams this season and nine in a row dating to late August, but they did not face Zimmermann (5-1) during that period. The right-hander had two complete games in his past three starts before Wednesday, including a one-hit shutout in 91 pitches Friday against Cincinnati.

Zimmerman allowed a two-out single by Upton in the first inning and a one-out ground-ball double by Maholm in the third, then nothing more as the Nationals handed the Braves just their third loss in 11 home games this season.

Former Braves closer Rafael Soriano retired the Braves in order in the ninth for his eighth save, striking out one and making it 20 consecutive Atlanta hitters who went down to end the game.

“I felt like a few guys were a tick late” against Zimmerman, said Braves catcher Evan Gattis, who popped out twice and grounded out in three at-bats. “He used his fastball well, mixed in a slider and slower breaking ball as well. He worked fast, had good mound presence, threw his game. … I’m disappointed we didn’t score and give (Maholm) any run support.”

The Braves (17-10) won their first five games this season against the second-place Nationals (14-14), who trimmed Atlanta’s lead to 3 1/2 games in the division standings.

Maholm (3-3) lost his third consecutive start despite allowing only three hits and two walks in eight innings. He bounced back strong from his worst start as a Brave, when he allowed 10 hits and eight runs in 3 2/3 innings Friday at Detroit.

He retired the last 13 Nationals he faced after a two-out walk in the fourth inning, and 15 of 16 after Desmond’s homer.

“Two infield hits and the home run,” Maholm said. “You get over it, take the positives and move on. We can take the series tomorrow if we win, which is the important thing, for us just to get it back going and swing the bats well.”

The hanging curveball to Desmond on a 1-1 count was driven to the seats in left-center field for a 2-0 lead. Desmond homered after Bryce Harper worked an eight-pitch walk to start the fourth inning.

The only runner to reach base the rest of the game was Anthony Rendon on a walk in the fourth inning.

Zimmerman threw 72 strikes in 107 pitches. He wasn’t as efficient as he’s been in some starts simply because he recorded more strikeouts than he normally does. The Braves had 118 strikeouts in their past 11 games, including six consecutive double-digit strikeout games before their nine-strikeout game Wednesday.

Zimmermann struck out the side in order: Dan Uggla, B.J. Upton and Juan Francisco.

“Paul pitched a great game, we just didn’t give him any run support,” Uggla said. “Both pitchers battled their butts off tonight. Ian took advantage of really the only mistake Paul made tonight. We didn’t take advantage of anything. Zim did a good job keeping us off-balance.”

Maholm also was the losing pitcher in the Braves’ previous loss to the Nationals, on Aug. 21, 2012.

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