Chipper Jones finally is healthy and hitting everything, including home runs, while Brian McCann has been hitting almost nothing lately except homers.
Each of those Braves mainstays had a home run in the first two innings Thursday night, sending Tim Hudson and the Braves toward a 5-2 win against the Washington Nationals at Turner Field.
Eric Hinske added an RBI single in the fourth to give the Braves a 3-0 lead, which made it a safe bet that Hudson (14-8) would prevail. He gave up five hits and one run in six innings and raised his career record to a mind-boggling 143-2 when provided a lead of at least three runs.
“You want more than two [runs] at that point, but Huddy’s pretty good at making those leads stand up," Jones said. "And once we were up 3-nothing, 4-1, you knew with our bullpen – even though it got hairy there in the eighth – that we had a great chance to win the ballgame.”
Craig Kimbrel allowed one hit in a scoreless ninth inning for his majors-leading 42nd save, one night after setting the major league rookie saves record. He ran his scoreless streak to 34 2/3 innings, surpassing Cliff Lee’s 34-inning streak as the longest in the big leagues this season.
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The night didn’t come without consternation for the Braves, who led 4-1 when the Nationals loaded the bases with one out in the eighth against Jonny Venters on a single and consecutive walks. That brought up hot-hitting Michael Morse.
Venters threw 11 balls in a 12-pitch span before a 3-0 strike to Morse, who hit the next pitch for a broken-bat grounder bobbled by third baseman Jones, an error and an RBI to cut the lead to 4-2. With bases still loaded, Venters struck out Jesus Flores and Danny Espinosa to escape further damage.
“He got out of sync a little bit, but then he goes on and strikes out the next two guys with that big sinker," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said.
Kimbrel has converted 24 consecutive save opportunities in his streak, which began June 14. He has 62 strikeouts in 34 2/3 innings during the streak, and leads major league relievers with 110 strikeouts in 66 2/3 innings, four shy of a Braves record for relievers.
Alex Gonzalez drove in two runs with a two-out single in the sixth and eighth-inning sacrifice fly.
The only run against Hudson was Jayson Werth’s tape-measure homer to start the sixth, on an 0-2 pitch. Hudson improved to 9-2 with a 2.13 ERA in his past 14 starts, and worked fewer than seven innings for only the second time in his past 11 starts.
His expressions showed he wasn't pleased when replaced by a pinch-hitter with two on and two out.
“God bless him, he wants to hit," Gonzalez said. "He’s a competitor."
Hudson downplayed his reaction.
“I never want to come out of a game, whether I’m pitching well or giving it up," he said. "I like to go out there and compete. It is what it is. Our bullpen is deep and we’re going to have some September callups. My innings count has gotten up to a pretty high number. It might be smart to start backing off at this point in the year, and save some stuff for down the stretch.”
Then he cracked, "To be honest with you, I was wanting to try to hit a three-run homer. I was more disappointed that I didn’t get an at-bat, since Derek [Lowe] hit one yesterday."
Against the Nationals, Hudson is 13-3 with a 1.95 ERA in 22 starts, including 3-1 in four this season. The Braves lost 21 of their past 35 games against the Nationals before winning Wednesday and Thursday for a 2-1 series victory.
McCann gave the Braves a 1-0 lead in the first inning with his two-out homer off Chien-Ming Wang (2-3). Since returning from the disabled list Aug. 14, five of McCann’s eight hits have been home runs, including all of his hits in a 3-for-29 stretch over his past nine games.
Jones’ one-out homer in the second inning was his second in as many nights and sixth in a span of 47 at-bats. After hitting his 450th career homer Wednesday, he said he finally had strength back in his legs after July arthroscopic knee surgery and a quadriceps strain.
He's hit .359 with six homers and 13 RBIs in his past 19 games, but wasn't pleased Thursday.
“Obviously it’s good I hit another homer, but I gave away three at-bats," he said. "That kind of gets the best of me whenever that happens. I had a guy that suited me real well and I got pitches to hit all night, and with the exception of the first at-bat, I just flat-out missed them.”