PAUL NEWBERRY, AP Sports Writer
ATLANTA — The way the Washington Nationals have played this season, they weren't going to complain too much about losing in the ninth inning on a throwing error.
Ian Desmond threw it to the backstop trying to get Andrelton Simmons at the plate, and the Atlanta Braves pulled out a 2-1 victory over the first-place Nationals on Friday night.
Washington still has a comfortable 7 1-2-game lead on the Braves in the NL East and is close to clinching at least a wild-card berth.
"We just had a little error at the end," Washington manager Davey Johnson said. "Otherwise, it looked good. I don't worry about those mistakes. Our defense has been outstanding. It's just tough to lose that way."
Kris Medlen had a career-high 13 strikeouts for the Braves, who snapped a three-game losing streak. Though he was lifted for a pinch-hitter after seven innings, the Braves kept alive a remarkable streak. They won for the 20th time in a row when Medlen is the starter, already a franchise record and the longest streak in the big leagues since the New York Yankees won 20 consecutive starts by Roger Clemens in 2001.
"If we keep on winning when I'm on the mound, then keep running me out there," said Medlen, whose streak dates to 2010 (he missed most of last season after elbow surgery). "It's just worked out that way. I don't know what it is. Those guys go to battle for me because they know I will go to battle for them."
Simmons reached on an infield single against Sean Burnett (1-2) and scurried to third when Michael Bourn lined a single that dropped in right field. Pinch hitter Tyler Pastornicky hit a one-hop grounder to the shortstop Desmond, who had a shot at getting Simmons. But the throw was awful — low and to the left of the plate. Catcher Kurt Suzuki made a half-hearted stab at it, knowing he had no chance to make the tag even if he scooped it up.
"He hit a kind of slow chopper and I've got a prayer with Simmons at third. It was probably a one in 10 chance and I didn't get him," Desmond said. "It was the story of the night: they put the ball in play."
Not so for the Nationals, who fanned 17 times — their most strikeouts in a game this season. Craig Kimbrel (2-1) earned the win by whiffing the side in the top of the ninth on 10 pitches — all strikes — though Medlen did most of the heavy lifting. He allowed only a homer to Bryce Harper leading off the sixth.
Medlen eclipsed his previous best for strikeouts set just 11 days earlier when he fanned 12 in a complete-game win over Colorado. In his last two starts at Turner Field, he has 25 strikeouts in 16 innings and joked that the hard-throwing Kimbrel — who has a staggering 101 strikeouts in 54 1-3 innings — was trying to follow his lead when he blew away the Nationals during his lone inning on the mound.
"I'm sure when he saw all the strikeouts I had, he was getting a little jealous," Medlen said with a grin.
Washington's Ross Detwiler wasn't as dominant as Medlen, but the left-hander was just as effective. He went six innings, allowing seven hits and one run while striking out five.
Like Medlen, Detwiler didn't factor in the decision, missing a chance to become Washington's fourth 10-win pitcher along with Gio Gonzalez (19-7), Stephen Strasburg (15-6) and Jordan Zimmermann (10-8).
"Det pitched a hell of a ball game," Johnson said. "He showed me something. He was in trouble and he got out of it."
Roger Bernadina provided a big assist in the fifth, making a brilliant catch as he slammed into the left-field wall against Jason Heyward. The Braves had two hits in the inning, but Bernadina's catch kept them off the board.
He came up holding his right shoulder, drawing a visit from Johnson and the trainer, but was able to stay in the game.
"I went out there slow hoping he'd get better," the manager quipped. "It was a longer run than I wanted."
The Braves broke the scoreless duel in the fourth. Freddie Freeman led off with a double, Dan Uggla walked and David Ross grounded into a forceout, moving Freeman to third. The runner was nearly caught off the bag when Desmond, realizing he would have a tough time doubling up Ross at first, wheeled and threw back to third.
Freeman dove back just ahead of the tag, then scored when Simmons went deep enough to right for a sacrifice fly.
The 1-0 lead held up the sixth. Harper drove Medlen's first pitch into the seats in left-center, an opposite-field shot for the rookie's 19th homer of the season.
"I made a mistake and we paid for it," Medlen said. "But we came out on top in the end."