ATLANTA -- The Atlanta Braves have climbed back into a position they once knew so well: playoff contender.
Tommy Hanson is a big part of their resurgence.The rookie right-hander struck out nine in 6 2/3 innings to lead Atlanta past the Nationals 8-1 on Tuesday night, snapping Washington's eight-game winning streak.The Braves have won four straight, six of seven and 16 of 25 since the All-Star break, a stretch that has made them a factor in the NL playoff race. Atlanta started the sweltering night 4 1/2 games behind East-leading Philadelphia, which visits Turner Field this weekend."You can definitely feel what's going on in this division, with us and Florida putting a lot of pressure on the Phillies," said Braves center fielder Ryan Church, who had two hits and two walks after being added to the lineup just before the opening pitch. "It's going to be a heck of a September."Hanson (7-2) had his second-most strikeouts since being called up from Triple-A in early June, surpassed only by an 11-strikeout effort against San Francisco on July 20. He allowed seven hits and didn't walk anyone."He looks like he's been here for a while," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "His mound presence is really good."Hanson needed 28 pitches to get through the first inning, when speedy Nyjer Morgan set up Washington's only run with the first of two stolen bases."All my pitches were working," Hanson said. "When that happens, it makes it a lot easier to pitch."His teammates are definitely impressed. Hanson has become a key member of one of baseball's best rotations, fitting right in among Jair Jurrjens, Javier Vazquez and Derek Lowe."I'm just glad I don't have to face this pitching staff anymore," said Church, who started the season with the New York Mets. "It's rare you see a young kid like that who just dominates."Chipper Jones, back in the Atlanta lineup after missing three straight games with a strained oblique muscle, hit a mammoth homer that reached the second section of seats in right field."It came off the sweet spot," Jones said of his 15th homer. "That hasn't happened a lot this year."The Nationals' eight straight wins were the second-longest streak since the franchise moved to Washington four years ago, surpassed only by a 10-game run in June 2005."We're still focused, we're still hungry, we still have momentum," said Morgan, who was at the center of a disputed play in the third.With the game tied 1-1, Morgan singled, stole second and tried to swipe third, appearing to get his hand on the bag ahead of Jones' tag. But umpire Larry Vanover called him out.The Nationals were especially enraged when Cristian Guzman followed with a single -- stretching his hitting streak to 16 games but failing to produce a run. Hitting coach Rick Eckstein began yelling from the dugout and was ejected. He charged onto the field to carry on the argument and had to be restrained by manager Jim Riggleman."If [Morgan] was safe, we might had gotten a run," Riggleman said. "Certainly that would have helped us from the standpoint of momentum."After that brouhaha, the Braves pulled ahead for good in the bottom half against John Lannan (8-9). Martin Prado doubled in a run and wound up scoring when left fielder Josh Willingham bobbled the ball after fielding Jones' single.Atlanta broke it open with a three-run fifth that knocked out Lannan. Church picked up an RBI with a ground-rule double, then Brian McCann and Yunel Escobar came through with two-out, run-scoring hits.Lannan went 4 2/3 innings, giving up six hits and six runs (five earned). He walked four and struck out one."I had trouble throwing strikes," Lannan said. "When I don't throw strikes, I'm in trouble."
Morgan has 38 stolen bases, second in the NL to Houston's Michael Bourn. ... The Braves activated IF Omar Infante before the game. He had been out since breaking his hand when struck by a pitch on May 20. ... Washington 3B Ryan Zimmerman had an RBI single and extended his hitting streak to 14 games. ... The Nationals were awarded an out in the seventh when home-plate umpire Dan Iassogna ruled that a fan reached over the railing, preventing Wil Nieves from catching a popup. The fan was ejected, drawing boos from the sparse crowd of 19,273.