ATLANTA — Taking three cuts after the Braves beat the Nationals 3-2 to end their four-game losing streak at Turner Field on Monday night.
1. The bullpen was at its lockdown best, once again
It had been five days since Craig Kimbrel last took the mound, when he saw a two-run lead over the Rockies turn into his first blown save of the season and just his fourth in his last 54 save opportunities.
Kimbrel was savoring the chance to put it all behind him.
“(I just had to) get them in order before they score,” he said. “That’s what I didn’t do the other day.”
There would be no drama this time as he retired the Nationals 1-2-3 to give Atlanta its fourth win in four games over their National League East rivals and pushing the division lead to 3 1/2 games.
It was an impressive performance from the Braves’ bullpen, which entered Monday leading the majors with a 2.18 ERA, as Jordan Walden threw 1 2/3 innings, striking out three and earning the win, followed by an inning and two Ks from Eric O’Flaherty.
The trio didn’t allow a hit as the Nationals went 0-for-11 with six strikeouts after starter Julio Teheran left with one out in the sixth inning.
“Walden was spectacular tonight,” Kimbrel said. “His change-up was … hitters were looking at him like they didn’t know he had it. He’s going to be a part of this bullpen if we’re going to keep having success.
“O’Flaherty went out there and just did what he’s been doing all year: getting guys out and setting it up so I can come in and pitch the ninth.”
For the Braves, it was an important tone-setter to this four-game set — especially after they dropped seven of 10 on their just-completed road trip — as the best bullpen in baseball showed it has its swagger back.
“I thought our bullpen was terrific,” manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “I thought our bullpen was the key to the game, really. Walden coming in with (runners at) first and second with one out and getting out of that jam then giving us a clean seventh. Then O’Flaherty and Kimbrel did what they always do, give us a chance to win a ballgame.”
2. Uggla’s mastery of Strasburg continues
It’s Dan Uggla that has the most career at-bats against Stephen Strasburg, and it’s Uggla that has had the most success against him, too.
The Braves second baseman went 2-for-3 on Monday and in his career is 11 of 23 with two home runs, two doubles and eight RBIs vs. Strasburg for a .478/.538/.826 slash line. Those 11 hits are four more than the nearest player, Uggla’s teammate Jason Heyward, who has seven hits, though as Heyward, who was sitting nearby, said when the topic was brought up “I’m close. I’m close.”
So has Uggla figured the Nationals ace out?
“He gets nasty on me and makes me look as dumb as anybody can,” Uggla said. For whatever reason, when I make contact with him sometimes it finds a hole. I don’t think there’s any rhyme or reason for it.”
But there is this: Uggla loves the fastball and the right-hander loves throwing them.
From 2006-10, Uggla’s wFB, which measures fastball runs above average, never fell below 15.3, going as high as 23.9 in ’09 and 21.6 in ’10. He’s dipped a bit in the last three seasons, standing at 4.9 in ’11, 9.4 in ’12 and 3.9 this year, but it’s still where he’s at his most dangerous. Add in that Strasburg leans heavily on that upper 90s-100-mph heater, throwing it 63.8 percent of the time, including 64 percent this season, and it’s the kind of matchup that Uggla favors.
None of Uggla’s hits resulted in any runs — the first ended as part of a double play in the second inning and he was thrown out at third following a Gerald Laird hit in the fourth — but he certainly has Strasburg’s number.
3. Teheran delivers another solid outing
The 10 hits were the most Teheran had allowed in a Braves uniform, and he gave up a lead-off hit in each of the first three innings, but overall, it was the second straight strong outing from the 22-year-old rookie.
After giving up two runs in the second — coming off four straight singles by Adam LaRoche, Ian Desmond, Chad Tracy and Kurt Suzuki — just one runner got past second base. Teheran (1-0) exited having yielded two runs in 5 1/3 innings with five strikeouts and one walk.
“He’s a kid that we’re watching him grow right in front of our eyes,” Gonzalez said. “I said that last year about (Mike) Minor and the year before that it was (Brandon) Beachy.”
This came on the heels of the April 23 victory over the Rockies in which he allowed one run on eight hits in seven innings, and like in that win, Teheran didn’t give up a home run against the Nationals.
He didn’t have quite the same luck in his first look at the Nationals, when he was touched up for four runs and a home run in six innings, but Teheran looks to be finding his footing.
With expected No. 5 starter Beachy still working his way back from Tommy John surgery — he threw his second batting practice session on Sunday and still isn’t slated to come back until mid-June — that progress is a welcome sight from the player who the organization has big hopes for after being its top-rated prospect for three straight seasons.
And it is worth noting that the Braves are now 5-0 in games that Teheran starts.