ATLANTA -- The Atlanta Braves have some big questions in their rotation as they try to protect their big lead in the NL wild-card race.
Jair Jurrjens' second-half struggles continued as he gave up six runs, including a three-run homer to Ryan Zimmerman, and the Washington Nationals beat the Braves 9-2 on Tuesday night.The Braves began the night 9 games ahead of San Francisco in the NL wild-card race. They fell 7.5 games behind Philadelphia in the NL East.Zimmerman and Michael Morse each had three hits. Morse hit a homer and drove in three runs, and Danny Espinosa and Laynce Nix also hit homers for Washington.Jurrjens was 12-3 before the All-Star break while allowing only five homers in 16 starts. He is 1-3 since the break while giving up nine homers in seven starts. He has allowed four or more runs in five of the seven starts.The right-hander was making his first start in seven days as the Braves were coming off an unusual three-day break after two games at the New York Mets were postponed by Hurricane Irene. But he wouldn't blame his rough outing on the long layoff."I just left a lot of pitches up and over the middle," Jurrjens said.Jurrjens' slump has come as another top starter, Tommy Hanson, faces an uncertain outlook for the final month and the postseason.An MRI on Friday showed a small tear in Hanson's right rotator cuff that won't require surgery. Hanson met with Dr. James Andrews on Monday and said Tuesday he has been cleared to start rehabbing.Hanson has been on the disabled list since Aug. 7.Jurrjens (13-6) gave up six runs, matching his season high set in a no-decision against the Nationals on July 17. He allowed eight hits, including three homers, in six innings. He has allowed 17 runs in three starts against Washington this season."I look like I'm throwing batting practice against them at times," Jurrjens said. "They're making adjustments and I'm not making adjustments.The Braves were shut down by Livan Hernandez (8-12). Hernandez allowed two runs on five hits and three walks in seven innings."My kind of game there," said Washington manager Davey Johnson. "That's what I'm talking about. I live for games like that."Jurrjens' troubles began when Morse led off the second with a long homer into the second section of seats in the left-field stands. Morse added a run-scoring double in the third."His breaking ball just kept going over the plate," said Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez of Jurrjens."His stuff just wasn't quite there. ... Usually when you give up a home run or a hard-hit ball in the gap, you don't hit your location."Zimmerman's homer in the fifth drove in Hernandez, who led off with a double, and Ian Desmond, who singled. Espinosa led off the sixth with his 19th homer, passing Atlanta's Freddie Freeman for the NL rookie lead.The Nationals added three runs in the seventh off Cristhian Martinez. Zimmerman doubled and scored on a single by Morse. Nix added a two-run homer.Washington snapped a six-game losing streak."I feel the offense growing," Johnson said. "I feel the pitching really coming around."Atlanta scored only one run in the second after loading the bases with no outs on walks to Dan Uggla and Chipper Jones and a single by Freeman. After Alex Gonzalez popped out to Chris Marrero at first base, Jason Heyward's fly ball to center drove in Uggla. Jurrjens' groundout ended the inning.Gonzalez doubled and scored on Heyward's single in the seventh.Tom Gorzelanny and Sean Burnett each pitched one scoreless inning in relief of Hernandez.Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos, who was sick with a fever, was removed from Johnson's original lineup. Jesus Flores was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts while filling in for Ramos.
RHP Stephen Strasburg is scheduled to make his first 2011 start for the Nationals on Sept. 6 against the Dodgers. He has one more minor league rehab start planned for Thursday as he continues his comeback from Tommy John surgery to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow. ... Johnson said LHP Tom Milone will be recalled from Triple-A Syracuse to start against the Mets on Saturday. ... Derek Lowe, 9-8 in his career against Washington, including a 1-1 record in three starts against the Nationals this season, will face LHP John Lannan on Wednesday night. Lowe is 8-12 this season; Lannan is 8-10 this season but is 3-0 in four starts against the Braves. ... Hernandez reached 50,000 pitches for his career in the second inning. Among active pitchers, only Boston's Tim Wakefield has thrown more pitches.