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Zimmerman, Nats rough up Smoltz in win vs. Braves

WASHINGTON (AP) -- John Smoltz blamed himself for his first loss
in more than two months. He also acknowledged that Washington
Nationals rookie Ryan Zimmerman played a big part.

Zimmerman homered and singled off Smoltz to raise his
rookie-leading RBI total to 78, and also robbed the pitcher of a
hit with a nice grab, leading Washington past the Atlanta Braves
9-6 Wednesday night.

"He single-handedly cost me some runs," said Smoltz, who was
6-0 with a 2.93 ERA over his previous 11 starts and hadn't lost
since June 13 at Florida.

"I didn't have good touch, and I didn't have good command,"
Smoltz added. "It's probably the worst command I have had in a
long time. No rhyme or reason -- just didn't have it."

Nationals manager Frank Robinson didn't recognize the man on the
mound for the Braves.

"He wasn't his old self out there today," Robinson said. "But
give our hitters a little credit -- they did do the job against
him."

Eight members of Washington's starting nine reached base against
Smoltz (10-6), and the Nationals batted around in a four-run second
inning. Zimmerman drove in one run with an infield single in that
inning -- sliding headfirst to avoid the tag when third baseman
Chipper Jones' throw sailed off-target -- and he hit a two-run shot
in the fourth for his 16th homer.

Those hits came after Zimmerman struck out in his first at-bat
on Smoltz's tricky slider -- which made the rookie realize he had to
lay off that pitch. And Zimmerman's slick defensive play on
Smoltz's hot shot near the bag to end the Braves' three-run fourth
came in the very same inning in which the third baseman made a
throwing error on a grounder by Edgar Renteria.

Clearly, Zimmerman is quick to put his mistakes behind him.

"I don't think he lets it bother him. He doesn't hang his
head," Robinson said. "He's very good at doing that, and that's
what you have to do, because that one's gone -- can't do anything
about that."

Zimmerman was in the middle of the action again in the sixth,
when pinch-hitter Andruw Jones -- out of the starting lineup for the
second game in a row because of left knee tendinitis -- drove in a
run with a broken-bat single. The end of the bat and the ball both
went right at Zimmerman, who was hit on the left forearm by the
barrel.

"I don't think that'll ever happen again," said Zimmerman, now
6-for-13 (.462) with two homers and seven RBI against Smoltz.

"There was a lot of things going on -- pretty much anything you
can expect in a game. I made an error. I made a diving play. I had
a bat hit me. Struck out swinging at a ball. Home run. Sliding into
first base."

Jones' hit drew Atlanta to 6-5, but Brian Schneider padded
Washington's lead with a three-run shot off reliever Ken Ray in the
seventh.

Chad Cordero pitched the ninth for his 22nd save.

Washington starter Billy Traber (3-1) earned his second
consecutive victory despite allowing five runs -- four earned -- over
5 2-3 innings.

"He knows how to pitch," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "He's
sneaky."

Traber won his previous start against another past NL Cy Young
Award winner, Tom Glavine. This time, Smoltz seemed off right from
the start, throwing 12 of his first 20 pitches for balls and
walking two batters in the first inning.

Then came the big second, when Washington had six hits, a walk
and one major baserunning gaffe -- the team's second in three games.
Traber was on second when Felipe Lopez hit a ball off the wall in
right. But Traber stopped at third, and Soriano got caught between
second and third, while Lopez went to second. So Soriano was tagged
out -- the old 9-4-5 play.

"I just went blank," Traber said. "I'm not very used to being
on base."

Zimmerman followed with his sliding single, ending an 0-for-9
start to this series. By the end of the second, Smoltz was up to 60
pitches. He wound up staying in for 110 pitches over five innings,
charged with six runs, nine hits and three walks.

"It was a frustrating night for me, because anytime we get
five, I should win. We got six," Smoltz said. "I'll start a new
streak."

Game notes
Smoltz reached behind his back to grab Alex Escobar's
comebacker and throw him out in the fifth. ... Traber gave up six
hits and one walk and hit two batters.