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Braves drop series in D.C.

Fall to last place Nationals in 4-3 loss

    WASHINGTON — Perhaps all Felipe Lopez needed was a little rest.

    Lopez returned from a rare day off by stopping an 0-for-13 skid with a single, double and go-ahead triple, and the Washington Nationals came back to beat the Atlanta Braves 4-3 on Thursday.

    Last-place Washington has won six of its past seven games, including three of four against Atlanta. That means the Nationals have taken two consecutive series after failing to win any of their first 12 this season.

    The recent success has hinged on some top bullpen work and occasional clutch hitting. Washington relied on that formula again, although not until after Chipper Jones’ two-run homer to straightaway center in the fourth inning helped Atlanta take a 3-1 lead off Matt Chico (3-4).

    The rookie starter allowed three runs and five hits in six innings, but relievers Billy Traber, Jesus Colome, and Jon Rauch combined for three perfect innings, with Rauch earning his third save.

    Nationals relievers have allowed one run over their past 23 2-3 innings.

    That type of work kept Thursday’s deficit manageable, and Washington chipped away with a run each in the fourth and fifth innings, then two in the sixth.

    Rookie Jesus Flores led off the sixth with a double, then was bunted to third. The Nationals sent up pinch-hitter Dmitri Young — who’s been out of the starting lineup with a left Achilles’ tendon injury — and the Braves countered by replacing Chuck James with reliever Chad Paronto (2-1).

    Young’s RBI single to left tied it at 3-all, meaning James was charged with three runs on eight hits over 5 1-3 innings.

    Up next was Lopez, who was out of the starting lineup Wednesday for only the second time in 2007, a move described by manager Manny Acta this way: ‘‘Just a night off, to clear his head a little bit. He’s been scuffling the last couple of games.’’

    Indeed, Lopez had gone hitless for three consecutive games for the first time this season. But after striking out in the first inning against James, he singled in the third and doubled and scored in the fifth.

    And in the sixth, he tripled to left-center to drive home the run that made it 4-3.

    Needing a homer to complete the cycle when he batted in the eighth, Lopez was walked by Peter Moylan — drawing boos from fans.

Notes: Jones’ homer in the fourth sailed directly over the 410-foot sign in center field. It was his 11th homer. ... The Nationals are 14-14 against NL East opponents — and 1-12 against everyone else. Starting Friday against Baltimore, the Nationals begin a stretch of 34 consecutive games with teams from outside their division. ... Atlanta released 1B Craig Wilson and activated C Brayan Pena off the DL before the game.

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