By Charles Odum, The Associated Press
ATLANTA — Chipper Jones had bad news for Derek Lowe after the pitcher hit his first career homer.
“He has got a few more to go before he catches me,” Jones said with a laugh.
Two milestone home runs — Jones’ 450th and Lowe’s first — gave Atlanta the early lead and Lowe combined with three relievers on a three-hitter as the Braves beat the Washington Nationals 3-1 on Wednesday night.
Craig Kimbrel pitched the ninth for his 41st save, setting a major league rookie record.
Ian Desmond’s singles in the first and third innings were the only hits allowed by Lowe (9-12) until Michael Morse led off the seventh with a homer.
Lowe said his first homer “was fun” but he was more excited about his work on the mound.
“I take the pitching first, obviously,” Lowe said after giving up one run, three hits and two walks in six-plus innings.
Lowe has had a rocky season but said “the last three (starts) have been better.”
He’s hoping for a repeat of his strong finish in 2010 when he won his last five starts, all in September, to help the Braves clinch a wild-card spot.
“It’s disappointing because there’s a lot more starts than just five or six,” Lowe said. “To dig a hole going into September is frustrating, but I’d rather be pitching well late than early.”
The Braves began the night 8 1/2 games ahead of St. Louis in the National League wild-card race.
John Lannan (8-11) gave up seven hits and three runs, two earned, in seven innings as his streak of five straight wins over the Braves ended.
“He kept us in the ballgame,” Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. “That’s all you can ask of a starter.”
Jones hit his 14th homer in the second inning. He said he feels healthy after recovering from a strained right quadriceps muscle and arthroscopic surgery on his right knee earlier in the season.
“I’ve got my legs under me now,” Jones said. “I feel I can get the bat started and use my legs to get the bat to where it needs to be instead of just using my upper body.”
Lowe, 38, lined a 3-2 pitch over the wall in left field in the third inning for his first homer in his 405th career at-bat.
Lowe, a career .149 hitter, entered the game hitting .182 this season.
Lowe looked surprised as he watched the ball clear the wall. Grinning widely, he was welcomed in the Braves’ dugout by enthusiastic teammates who pounded his helmet and back and offered high-fives.
The Braves said the Elias Sports Bureau reported Lowe is only the third pitcher since 1900 to hit his first career homer at 38 or older. Randy Johnson was 40 when he hit his first homer in 2003. Preacher Roe was 38 when he hit his first homer in 1953.
Lowe insisted he had never before hit a homer at any level, even Little League.
“I never thought I’d get one,” he said.
Lannan was 3-0 in four starts against Atlanta this season, including a win at Washington on Aug. 2, before taking the loss.
“It doesn’t matter how many times you face them, you’ve still got to go to your strengths,” Lannan said. “And that’s what I did. They just got me today.”
Lannan ended August with four straight losses.
Lowe was dominant as retired 11 straight batters before Morse led off the seventh with his 24th homer. It was only the third hit allowed by Lowe, but Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez quickly went to his bullpen.
Eric O’Flaherty and Jonny Venters both pitched one scoreless inning before Kimbrel took over in the ninth. Kimbrel struck out Morse to end the game.
Kimbrel broke a tie with Neftali Feliz of Texas, who had 40 saves as a rookie last season.
“It’s kind of cool to be able to do it at home,” Kimbrel said. He said he wasn’t focused on the rookie record.
Matt Diaz had two hits only hours after he was traded back to the Braves from Pittsburgh for a player to be named and cash considerations. The deal was completed before Wednesday’s deadline to be eligible for the postseason roster.
The Braves’ lineup is top-heavy with left-handed hitters. The team needs help from the right-handed hitting Diaz against such tough left-handed pitchers as Lannan.
Diaz hit .335 against left-handers with the Braves from 2006-10 and hit .295 against left-handers with Pittsburgh. He entered the game hitting .400 (12 for 30) in his career against Lannan before adding two singles in three at-bats.
Diaz called his return to Atlanta “the best news I could have imagined.”
After the game, the Braves announced they had acquired infielder Jack Wilson from Seattle for a player to be named and cash considerations.
NOTES: The Braves placed LHP George Sherrill on the 15-day DL, retroactive to Aug. 27, with left elbow inflammation. ... Nationals C Wilson Ramos was still sick and missed his second straight game. ... Jones moved past Jeff Bagwell into sole possession of 34th with 450 homers. Carl Yastrzemski is 33rd with 452. ... RHP Tim Hudson will try for his 14th win when the Braves and Nationals complete the three-game series on Thursday night. RHP Chien-Ming Wang will start for Washington.