Ankiel key as Nationals defeat Braves

WASHINGTON -- If the home run that ex-Braves center fielder Rick Ankiel hit in the third inning wasn’t enough to assure a win against his former team, the squeeze bunt he laid down in the seventh was.

Ankiel drove in three runs with his long ball and bunt, and the Washington Nationals out-pitched and played better defense than the Braves in a 6-3 victory that was delayed twice by rain Saturday afternoon at Nationals Park.

The Braves got bases-empty homers from Dan Uggla and Alex Gonzalez, but not before the Nationals built a 4-1 early lead against Tommy Hanson (0-1) on the way to evening the three-game series at one apiece.

“I got hurt when I was falling behind and not commanding my fastball,” said Hanson, who allowed four runs (three earned) on five hits in 3 2/3 innings before leaving during a 55-minute delay that began in a brief hailstorm.

There had been another 32-minute rain delay at the start of the game.

“My fastballs were catching way too much of the plate,” said Hanson, who had two walks, one strikeout and threw 38 strikes in 68 pitches. “I was little bit off with my command. With all that being said, I’m obviously not worried about it; it’s my first start. I know I can pitch better than that.”

Gonzalez went 3-for-3, and Chipper Jones and rookie Freddie Freeman had two hits apiece for the Braves, whose 10 hits included only one with a runner in scoring position. Left-hander John Lannan (1-0) limited the Braves to one run and five hits in five innings.

“Offensively, we could very easily have had 15 or 16 hits today,” Jones said. “It just seemed like they had somebody making a great play on the other end of a line drive somewhere. There’s nothing you can do. Just tip your cap. They beat us today.”

The Braves had two runners on with one out in three innings and failed to score in any of those situations.

“Shoot, we hit the ball as hard as anybody,” Fredi Gonzalez said after his first loss as Braves manager. “[Martin] Prado goes 0-for-5 and man, oh man, he hit every ball right on the nose. We just didn’t get that bloop when we needed it with people on base.”

After Uggla led off the sixth inning with his first homer for the Braves to cut the lead to 4-2, a Gonzalez walk and Freeman double put potential tying runs in scoring position with one out.

Pinch-hitter Brooks Conrad struck out, and Prado flied out to end the inning.

“We had second and third, one out. If we just get one out of there,” Gonzalez said. “You’re hoping to get one, and we had the right people up there. Hey, [the Nationals] are allowed to get us out also, you know? Got to give them a little credit.”

Prado has hit plenty of balls hard, but has yet to reach base in two games, going 0-for-9 from the leadoff position.

“I’m just trying to get good at-bats,” Prado said. “... I made [outs] in a couple of situations with men on base, but I can’t control that. Just hit the ball hard somewhere. What happens, happens. That’s all I can control.”

The Braves have scored five runs in two games, including a 2-0 win in Thursday’s season opener.

Washington remains an improbable Braves nemesis, with a 38-36 record against the Braves since the beginning of the 2007 season.

On Saturday, the Nationals got three hits, including two doubles from former Phillies slugger Jayson Werth. But their biggest blows came from Ankiel, including a two-run, two-out homer on a 3-1 fastball to push the lead to 4-1.

The inning began with a Werth double and Ryan Zimmerman walk, before Michael Morse’s sacrifice fly that gave Washington a 2-1 lead.

In the seventh, Zimmerman hit a leadoff triple that skipped off center fielder Nate McLouth’s glove and rolled to the warning track when he attempted a sliding catch. Zimmerman would score on Ankiel’s one-out suicide squeeze for a 5-2 lead.

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