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Harper, Espinosa home runs lift Nationals over Braves

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Posted: May 26, 2012 11:49 p.m.
Updated: May 26, 2012 11:47 p.m.
Harper, Espinosa home runs lift Nationals over Braves

Atlanta Braves center fielder Michael Bourn (24) misplays a ball hit for an RBI triple by Washington Nationals' Rick Ankiel in the sixth inning Saturday in Atlanta.



    ATLANTA — Washington relied on its offense for its second straight win over Atlanta, leaving manager Davey Johnson feeling relaxed and happy.
    Bryce Harper homered and Danny Espinosa added a three-run shot to help Washington strengthen its hold on first place in the NL East by beating the struggling Atlanta Braves, 8-4, on Saturday.
    Following Friday night's 7-4 win in the series opener, the Nationals have scored seven or more runs in back to back games for the first time this season.
    "The offense scoring seven runs two days in a row, I feel like I'm on vacation or something," Johnson said.
    Stephen Strasburg (5-1) was not sharp, but backed by the Nationals' 12 hits, he still won. He set a season high with four walks while giving up four runs and six hits in five innings. He had six strikeouts.
    "He's usually the one picking us up and we picked him up today," Johnson said.
    "I just don't think he had a good feel of the fastball. He was throwing good and hard. There was nothing physically wrong with him."
    The temperature for the first pitch was 90 degrees, and Strasburg soon was shaking sweat off his right arm between pitches. The heat may have contributed to Strasburg's difficulty controlling his fastball.
    "I'd try one thing and it wouldn't work and I'd try another thing and it wouldn't work," Strasburg said. "It was just one of those days. I'm not really happy with it, but the bottom line is we won."
    The Braves' season-worst losing streak reached six games as they fell three games behind the Nationals.
    Before the game, the Braves placed Chipper Jones on the 15-day disabled list Saturday with a bruised left leg.
    Dan Uggla's two-run, tying homer in the fifth was the big hit for the short-handed Braves.
    Catcher Brian McCann is still recovering from an illness and did not start. First baseman Freddie Freeman was a late scratch as he continues to struggle with his vision while wearing contacts.
    "We're not playing particularly well right now," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "And there are no excuses. We've just need to get it going. I like the fact that we battled back against Strasburg."
    Juan Francisco had three hits, including a double off Tom Gorzelanny to lead off the ninth. Craig Stammen gave a one-out walk to pinch-hitter Jack Wilson. Tyler Clippard earned his third save by striking out Michael Bourn and ending the game on McCann's pinch-hit popout.
    Espinosa doubled off Mike Minor to lead off the game and scored on Adam LaRoche's fly ball. Espinosa pushed the lead to 4-0 with his three-run homer off Minor in the second.
    Francisco had a run-scoring single and fill-in catcher J.C. Boscan also drove in a run in the second inning.
    The Braves pulled even at 4-4 on Uggla's homer off Strasburg. The Nationals answered with two runs off Kris Medlen (1-1) in the sixth.
    Pinch-hitter Chad Tracy's double drove in Ian Desmond, who doubled. Tracy pulled up with an apparent groin injury between first and second and had to leave the game.
    Johnson said Tracy was hopeful he "just popped some scar tissue" and won't have to go on the disabled list.
    Rick Ankiel, the pinch-hitter for Strasburg, added a run-scoring triple off the center-field wall. Michael Bourn appeared set to make the catch before backing into the wall, losing his balance and the ball.

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