McCann backs Hudson's stellar outing
Catcher drives in four to help Braves end five-game skid
ATLANTA -- Brian McCann hasn't exactly dazzled with his bat over the past two months. But when compared against his Braves teammates over the course of the past week, the 23-year-old catcher looks like a one-man, run-producing machine.
Mired in the worst offensive drought they've seen in more than 20 years, the Braves were looking for the type of spark McCann delivered at Turner Field on Monday night. His four-RBI performance, combined with seven solid innings from Tim Hudson, led to a 4-1 win over the Nationals and more importantly, the end of a five-game losing streak.
"Finally some positive things are happening around here," said Hudson, who surrendered one run and won for the first time in five starts. "You just have to go out and build from this. This isn't going to solve any of the problems that we've been having. We just have to continue to go out there and play a little better baseball."
With McCann's fourth-inning, two-out RBI single off Nationals starter Jason Bergmann, the Braves tallied what was just their second run in 49 innings and ended a drought of 17 scoreless innings. With all of the offensive struggles that encompassed their five-game losing streak, it's not all that surprising that this single also gave them their first lead in exactly a week.
"We just ran into a bad stretch, and that's the way baseball goes," said McCann, who has driven in eight of the 14 runs the Braves have scored over the course of their past seven games.
After halting his offensive woes with a four-RBI performance in last Monday night's win against the Red Sox, McCann indicated that he was feeling better than he had in a few months. While going hitless in the 14 at-bats that encompassed the next five games, he says he still possessed the comfort that was once again evidenced with the three-run, sixth-inning homer he delivered off reliever Billy Traber to provide the difference in the series-opening win over the Nationals.
"I've been changing too much, trying to find something that's going to work," said McCann, who entered Monday having hit .213 (33-for-155) with 22 RBIs in his previous 45 games. "This is a stepping stone, hopefully. You never know."
Knowing they had lost 10 of their previous 15 games even before the start of the offensively abysmal five-game skid, the Braves weren't going to get overly excited about one win over the last-place Nationals, who were forced to limit Bergmann to four innings because he had spent the past five weeks on the disabled list with inflammation in his right elbow.
But like any other potential catalyst, this could be the start of something good for a team that certainly found itself making news for all the wrong reasons last week. This past weekend's media-relayed verbal exchange between Chipper Jones and John Smoltz has been silenced and for now, they no longer have to wonder how long it's been since they actually scored more than once in a game.
"Things are feeling good around here," said Hudson, who is 4-1 with a 1.29 ERA in seven career starts against the Nationals. "I think the soap opera settled down a little bit. Smiles, hugs and kisses and everything else. So everything is good."
Bergmann's last Major League appearance had come on May 14, when he limited the Braves to one earned run and two hits over eight innings. His no-hit bid that evening was erased with McCann's eighth-inning leadoff homer. The four innings he provided in this outing were only marred by McCann's fourth-inning two-out RBI single. It was Atlanta's first hit in 25 at-bats with a runner in scoring position.
"After we scored the one run, it felt like we had three or four," Hudson said. "Then when Mac hit that three-run homer, I swear I felt like we had a 10-run lead. Hopefully this is something that will kick-start us."
With two outs and first base open in the sixth, the Nationals ordered Traber to issue an intentional walk to Andruw Jones, who has one hit in his past 36 at-bats and a .198 batting average on the season. McCann didn't take offense to the free pass. He expected it with the understanding that he'd hit just .232 with one homer in 82 previous at-bats against left-handed pitchers this season.
"You have to play the percentages, and Andruw Jones is a dangerous hitter," said McCann, who entered the game having hit .179 with four RBIs in 28 previous at-bats against the Nationals this season.
While McCann had previously struggled against the Nationals, Hudson had simply prolonged his dominance. In three starts against them this year, the veteran hurler is 3-0 with a 0.85 ERA. That equates to two earned runs over 21 innings.
"It was one of those nights," said Hudson, who had allowed four runs or more in three of his previous four starts. "I wish I could take three or four of those innings and put them in my back pocket and save them for later on when there's a tough stretch in a game."
This might have been just one game for the Braves. But they'd also certainly like to bottle some of this offense and use it in the event that they ever encounter anything similar to the frustrations that last week brought.
"It's going to take a little bit of time to get out of it, but hopefully tonight was a start," McCann said.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.