published Monday, July 23rd, 2012

Ryan Zimmerman shots keep Atlanta Braves at bay

Atlanta Braves shortstop Paul Janish makes a throw to first base after fielding a ground ball during their baseball game against the Washington Braves in Washington, Sunday, July 22, 2012. The Nationals won 9-2.
Atlanta Braves shortstop Paul Janish makes a throw to first base after fielding a ground ball during their baseball game against the Washington Braves in Washington, Sunday, July 22, 2012. The Nationals won 9-2.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
  • photo
    Washington Nationals starting pitcher Ross Detwiler delivers against the Atlanta Braves in the first inning of their baseball game in Washington, Sunday, July 22, 2012.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

WASHINGTON — The Washington Nationals felt pretty good about themselves after earning a split of their four-game series with the Atlanta Braves.

Ryan Zimmerman homered twice and drove in three runs, and Danny Espinosa and Roger Bernadina each had three hits and two RBIs as the Nationals beat the Braves 9-2 Sunday in the finale of the series between the top two teams in the National League East.

After Washington blew a 9-0 lead Friday night in an 11-10 loss, the teams split a rainy Saturday doubleheader. The Nationals lead the division by 3 1/2 games -- as they did when the series began. Atlanta had won 10 of its previous 13.

"They've been playing the best in the division. To win the first two and to get a split out of here, I think if I was them I'd feel deflated," Washington manager Davey Johnson said. "Sometimes a split is like picking up ground."

Johnson blamed himself for losing Friday's game and pointed out that the teams play six more times and he expected a tight race between them.

"The rest of the division is going the other way," he said.

The Nationals' manager's day wasn't all pleasant. He announced that All-Star shortstop Ian Desmond would be placed on the 15-day disabled list with a tear in his oblique. Desmond has been trying to play through the injury, but an MRI on Sunday revealed the tear.

Johnson said Desmond was hurting at the end of Saturday's doubleheader.

"There was no point [Saturday] where I felt I made it worse." Desmond said. "I was just ready for it to stop."

Zimmerman's two-run homer and Espinosa's double keyed a four-run first inning off Atlanta starter Jair Jurrjens (3-4). Zimmerman's solo shot and Espinosa's RBI double finished Jurrjens in the fourth.

In his last two starts, Jurrjens has allowed 14 runs and 17 hits in six innings.

Michael Morse had three hits and scored three runs for the Nationals, who had 18 hits.

Ross Detwiler (5-3) allowed two runs and seven hits in seven innings to record his first win since May 3.

Zimmerman added a sixth-inning single. After receiving a cortisone shot on his right shoulder on June 24, he is batting .392 with 11 home runs and 28 RBIs.

"A split's fine," he said. "Four-game series -- to split is good. With as much baseball as we've played this weekend with the weather, all the things we had to deal with -- the first two games the way they went for us to come back and win the next two games shows what kind of team this is."

Braves third baseman Chipper Jones, who was 5-for-13 in the four games, felt an opportunity was lost. During its hot streak, Atlanta had cut the deficit from six games to 1 1/2.

"Our chance to win the series was yesterday," he said. "We didn't get it done. Today was not good from pitch one. But we came in here and held our own for the most part -- thought we played well for the most part. We're right back where we started. Now it's time to hopefully make up ground while we're playing in separate cities."

Rookie Nationals catcher Sandy Leon, playing in his fifth game, had a fifth-inning double for his first two RBIs of the season. Washington led 8-0 after five, but the Braves scored two runs in the sixth on a passed ball by Leon and an infield out by Freddie Freeman.

"It's a little demoralizing when you're in a dogfight for the division and you're constantly fighting from behind," Jones said.

The Braves play three games in Miami starting tonight. Atlanta left-hander Mike Minor (5-6, 5.69) is scheduled to start on the mound against the Marlins' Josh Johnson (5-7, 4.35).

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