08/11/09 11:56 PM ET
Hanson halts streaking Nationals in rout
Rookie phenom strikes out nine in 6 2/3 innings
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
Showing the poise of a seasoned veteran at Turner Field on Tuesday night, Hanson incurred some first-inning damage and then made the adjustments that allowed the Braves to cruise to an 8-1 win over the previously streaking Nationals.
"That's the most fun that I've had pitching since I've been up here," said Hanson, who allowed one run in 6 2/3 innings and recorded six strikeouts against a Nationals club that had hit .316 in its previous 16 games and scored at least five runs in each of its previous nine games.
Hanson's excitement stemmed from the fact that he'd found great comfort with his fastball, slider, changeup and curveball. In the process of mixing up these four pitches, he overcame the first-inning run the Nationals gained with Nyjer Morgan's speed and watched as his offense proved opportune while taking advantage of some rare control problems experienced by Washington starter John Lannan.
"We came out and took care of business," said Chipper Jones, who returned to the lineup for the first time since Thursday.
Jones capped his two-hit performance with a seventh-inning leadoff homer that only distanced the comfortable lead that was gained with a three-run fifth inning against Lannan.
After winning the final three games of the weekend's four-game series against a Dodgers team that possesses the National League's best record, the Braves knew they couldn't simply cruise into this series against a team that still easily possessed the NL's worst record, despite the fact that they came to Atlanta carrying an eight-game winning streak.
The Nationals had won 16 of the 27 games they'd played against the Braves since the start of the 2008 season. But their attempt to prolong this dominance seemed to evaporate in the third inning, after third-base umpire Larry Vanover made a questionable call on Morgan's stolen-base attempt.
"I didn't see it, but he said he was out, so I was happy," said Hanson, who had seen Morgan begin the game with a single and score two batters later when his steal of second base put him in position to score on Ryan Zimmerman's single.
After Morgan was called out, despite seemingly sliding into third base ahead of Jones' tag, Cristian Guzman followed with a single that could have given the Nationals a 2-1 lead. But instead of saying the game turned on Vanover's call, Nationals interim manager Jim Riggleman focused on the increased patience the Braves showed against Lannan, who had been 3-1 with a 2.12 ERA in his previous five starts against Atlanta.
Lannan needed just nine pitches to issue consecutive walks to begin the second inning and then proved fortunate when the only resulting damage came when Brian McCann scored on Matt Diaz's double-play groundout. But the Nationals left-hander, who had issued two walks or fewer during each of his previous seven starts, didn't prove to be as fortunate after Ryan Church drew a one-out walk in the fifth inning.
Martin Prado followed with an RBI double that put him in position to score when Josh Willingham bobbled Jones' single to center. Two innings later, the Braves put the game out of reach with a three-run fifth that was highlighted by RBI doubles from Church and Yunel Escobar.
"A couple of big walks early in the game really aided our cause," Jones said. "It's not like John Lannan to fall behind and walk many guys. ... Tonight, he had a couple of lapses, and we took advantage."
Hanson, who is 7-2 with a 2.53 ERA in the 11 starts he's made since his rocky big league debut, bounced back from his 28-pitch first inning in impressive style. The 22-year-old right-hander still looked strong in the sixth, when he followed Guzman's leadoff single with consecutive strikeouts of Zimmerman, Adam Dunn and Willingham.
"Hanson's a good pitcher," Nationals catcher Wil Nieves said. "He was hitting both sides of the plate and kept us off balance. If he stays healthy, he might be one of the best."
While Lannan struggled with his control, Hanson didn't issue a walk for the first time in 12 career starts. The composed right-hander found the strike zone with 69 of his 101 pitches.
"He looks like he's been here a while," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "His mound presence is really good."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.