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Braves 7, Nationals 6

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KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP)

Tim Hudson won the National League comeback player of the year award in 2010 and it looks as if it might be Chipper Jones' turn this season.

''It's great to see Chipper doing what he's doing,'' Hudson said. ''I think that was a question mark coming in. 'What would Chipper do?' So far, so good. He's looking like he's out to prove a point, which is good for us.''

Jones hit his third homer, Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman also connected and Hudson pitched five scoreless innings Thursday night as the Atlanta Braves beat the Washington Nationals 7-6.

''I'm not even thinking about the knee,'' said Jones, who turns 39 on April 24. ''It's not an issue. I have no pain in the knee whatsoever. I feel like I turned the corner about 2 1/2 weeks ago.''

Jones, coming back from major knee surgery last August, also had a run-scoring double to give him 11 RBIs this spring. He was 2 for 4 and raised his average to .386.

''After being out so long, and with timing being an issue, I'm a little surprised it's come back so fast,'' Jones said of his hot hitting.

Jones made his first error of the spring in the second inning, muffing a backhand stab on chopper in front of third and then throwing wide. But he also made two good plays coming in on slow-hit balls, one bare-handed, and jumped to catch a liner.

''I'm really excited to get the season started,'' Jones said. ''Right now!''

Hudson, who stranded five runners in the first two innings, walked four, but allowed just two hits and struck out five while lowering his ERA to 1.29.

The veteran right-hander was 17-9 last season in his return from reconstructive elbow surgery and will be the starting pitcher for the Braves' home opener against Philadelphia on April 8.

''I am excited,'' Hudson said. ''It's fun to pitch in front of your home fans, especially the home opener. Hopefully our fans are as excited about the season as we are.''

Hudson retired the side in order in the third and fourth innings after a shaky start and ended his outing with a double play. Of his 86 pitches, more than half were in the first two innings.

Freeman followed Jones' leadoff homer in the fourth inning with a two-run drive off Nationals starter Yunesky Maya. Heyward, who hadn't played since Friday because of a sore back, homered with a man on in the sixth.

Heyward said he was examined Wednesday by a team physician who told him he was predisposed to some back soreness because he had less cartilage between the discs of his spine than most people. It is not considered to be a major issue.

Adam LaRoche had a two-run double as Washington scored six runs in the eighth inning to make it close. Cristhian Martinez relieved Scott Proctor in the eighth and pitched a perfect ninth for the save.

NOTES: Brian McCann spent two hours Wednesday night visiting with minor league manager Luis Salazar, who reassured the Braves catcher that his spirits were high despite losing his left eye after being struck by a McCann foul ball last week. . . . Jordan Zimmermann, who has allowed no runs and eight hits over 11 innings in his first three Grapefruit League starts, will pitch Friday when Washington hosts St. Louis. The Braves cut eight players Thursday, trimming their camp roster to 38. Sent down were pitchers Cory Gearrin, Stephen Marek, Anthony Varvaro and Yohan Flande, outfielders Brent Clevlen and Jose Constanza, catcher Wilkin Castillo and infielder Shawn Bowman. The Nationals are also down to 38 players after trimming pitcher Cole Kimball, first baseman Chris Marrero, outfielder Corey Brown and catcher Derek Norris.

Tagged: Braves, Nationals, Tim Hudson, Chipper Jones, Jason Heyward

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