Braves shut out Nationals for 5th straight home win

Seven wins in 11 games and a five-game home winning streak might seem like modest achievements. But when you’ve been where the Braves have since early July, those numbers are like beams of light after an extended period of darkness.

Not to mention, the past two wins came against the divisional rival the Braves (and others) don’t much care for, the Washington Nationals.

Add to it the fact the Braves have seen significant improvement from a couple of rookie starting pitchers during the uptick, and it’s understandable why the team’s more upbeat as this difficult season winds down than they were two weeks ago.

One of those pitchers, Williams Perez, limited the Nationals to six hits in six scoreless innings of a 2-0 win on Wednesday night at Turner Field, which gave the Braves their third series win in the past four. They’ve scored two runs in every game during the five-game home winning streak, each of the other wins by 2-1 scores.

“Right now it’s been going good for us,” said Braves outfielder Michael Bourn, whose two-out RBI single in the second inning pushed the lead to 2-0. “We took two from them, but I mean, they’re probably not in the best mood to play since they just got eliminated from the playoff (race). They had a team that was expected to do some damage.

“They’ve got a good team, though. They’ve got another tough pitcher (Stephen Strasburg) going tomorrow. It’s not going to be an easy task, we’ve just got to go out there and try to complete the sweep.”

In his final start of the season, Perez (7-6) had three walks and three strikeouts while improving to 3-0 with a 2.35 ERA in his last four starts. He’d been 0-6 with a 9.50 ERA in his his first seven coming off a stint on the disabled list for a foot contusion.

“Had the sinker going,” said manager Fredi Gonzalez, whose Braves have won seven of 11 games since losing 48 of the previous 63. “Got behind in some counts early in the game, but he really did a nice job, and good for him to finish that way. I think the bullpen did a nice job, retired nine in a row against some pretty good hitters over there. And we were able to score two runs. It’s good baseball we’re playing right now.”

The Braves have won five in a row at Turner Field after losing 14 of the previous 15.

Opponents are 2-for-37 with runners in scoring position during the Braves’ five-game home winning streak, including the Nationals’ 1-for-9 against Perez.

Relievers Peter Moylan, Edwin Jackson and rookie closer Arodys Vizcaino worked a perfect inning apiece for the Braves, with Vizcaino recording his ninth save in 10 opportunities.

“For as much issues as the bullpen has had this year, as you guys keep saying,” Moylan said, smiling, “it is very nice to see the guys have some success out there. And it hasn’t just been tonight, I feel like it’s been the last few weeks. The guys have been throwing the ball a lot better and getting more comfortable every time they go out there.”

They also have four consecutive home games against the Nationals, giving the Braves their only two series wins in six this season against the Nationals, who still have a 13-5 lead in the season series entering Thursday’s finale.

After finishing their series with the Nationals on Thursday, the Braves close the season with a three-game home series against the Cardinals.

They beat a pitcher Wednesday who has long given them fits, Jordan Zimmermann. Coming into the game, he was 3-0 with a 1.86 ERA in four starts at Turner Field, his best ERA at any ballpark where he’d pitched more than once.

Zimmermann was 3-0 with a 1.82 in five starts this season against the Braves before Wednesday. But they grabbed a 1-0 lead in the first inning on Nick Markakis’s two-out double and A.J. Pierzynski’s opposite-field RBI single, his fourth straight hit in two nights.

Pierzynski had two home runs in Tuesday’s 2-1 win in the series opener, and Matt Wisler – the other of those improving Braves rookie pitchers – worked seven innings in that game.

The Braves added a run in the second inning when Bourn drove in Andrelton Simmons, who led off the inning with a single and advanced on Perez’s sacrifice bunt.

Staked to an early lead, Perez did what he’s become known for, consistently wiggling out of trouble. He’d given up a leadoff double in the first inning, then retired the next three batters.

In the second inning, he allowed a leadoff single and walk to put two on with none out. No problem: He induced a double-play grounder from Wilson Ramos, then issued an intentional walk before retiring Zimmermann on a grounder.

The Nationals also had runners on the corners with one out in the fifth inning before Perez struck out Anthony Rendon and got another inning-ending groundout.

“It feels really good to finish the season the way I have, especially after coming back from that injury,” Perez said through a translator. “I was at such a low point. Finishing on this high point, it feels good going into the offseason.”