Three Cuts: Floyd exits early with broken elbow; Braves blank Nats

Braves pitcher Gavin Floyd allowed zero runs and two hits through six innings on Thursday night before a fractured elbow put a major question mark on the rest of his season.

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez tinkered with the batting order Wednesday, moving Jason Heyward from his normal leadoff spot down to fifth, and adding Tommy La Stella to the top.

The Braves were blasted 10-5, and La Stella (0 for 4) and Heyward (1 for 2) combined for just one hit against the Phillies. But Gonzalez continued the experiment Thursday in Washington with better results.

Atlanta only scored three runs against the Nationals, which is a little disheartening. And La Stella, who is in the midst of a 2-for-19 slowdown, only went 1 for 5.

But the heart of the Braves lineup (Freddie Freeman batting third, Evan Gattis fourth, Heyward fifth and Chris Johnson sixth) propelled the team to victory.

Johnson drove in all three runs Thursday with three singles, while the quartet in the middle of the batting order went 9 for 17 (.529), with two Freeman doubles. The Braves even went 4 for 12 with runners in scoring position.

"We did a nice job of keeping the line moving," said Gonzalez. "Right there in the middle of the lineup. We were able to add on a run late in the game. That was good to see."

Three runs per game won’€™t win much (the Braves are 6-7 when scoring exactly three runs, and 12-27 when scoring three or fewer), but when the 3-4-5-6 hitters rake at a better than .500 clip, good things should tend to start happening.

Gavin Floyd got his first win of the season 10 days ago, on June 9 against the Rockies in Colorado. Two starts later, he beat the NL East-leading Nationals in Washington D.C.

Someone needs to tell Floyd that pitching in those two ballparks (Denver because of the altitude and Washington D.C. because of the rivalry) isn’t supposed to be easy.

Floyd completed five innings Thursday using only 50 pitches. He’€™d struck out five Nationals at that point, and only given up one hit. He gave up a double to Denard Span in the sixth, but kept zeroes on the scoreboard through six innings.

Against Colorado, Floyd threw 6 2/3 innings and gave up just three hits and one run. Even with a no-decision sandwiched in between, Floyd’€™s last three starts have produced 19 innings of work with only 12 hits allowed, 14 strikeouts against only four walks, and a 2.37 ERA.

No one in the Braves clubhouse is thinking about Floyd’€™s recent success, however.

On May 7 of last year, after just five starts, Floyd tore his ulner collateral ligament and underwent Tommy John surgery. After recovery and rehab, Floyd joined the Braves rotation after signing a one-year free agent contract this offseason. He made his season debut on May 6 after missing the first month of the season to continue rehabbing the ligament.

Floyd said he didn’€™t feel pain, but heard something from his elbow, and had a weird sensation in his elbow.

"That’s significant,"€ said Floyd about his broken elbow. "€œIt was a weird spot. It was a little sore before, (but) not in the area I had surgery. So I figured it was just things that were a little sore. It was fine until that last pitch. I felt a pop."

Atlanta has two natural starters working outside the rotation. David Hale is in the bullpen after starting four games. He’s made 18 relief appearances and has thrown 25 innings, giving up 25 hits and 11 earned runs.

Alex Wood made seven starts at the beginning of the season for the Braves, but his last 11 appearances have been from the bullpen, after Floyd came off the disabled list. Wood was sent to Triple-A Gwinnett on June 10, to give him some time to extend his innings worked and make the transition back to the rotation.

The Braves may need Wood sooner than expected now that Floyd will hit the disabled list. A corresponding roster move will be made Friday morning after Floyd flies back to Atlanta to have team doctors examine the elbow.

It doesn’€™t really matter who’€™s in first place in the division, or where either team sits in the standings, Atlanta seems to be in total control of this rivalry of late.

Even though the Braves were just swept in a three-game series by the Phillies, and have lost 10 of their last 15, facing off against the Nationals was good news. One of the best ways for Atlanta to halt a losing streak is to play Washington, and Thursday’s win wasn’t the first proof of this.

On May 31 of last year, Atlanta entered a three-game series with the Nationals after losing 3 of 5 games prior. The Braves took two games in that series, and won five in a row, and seven of their next nine games.

Since the beginning of the 2013 season, including Thursday’€™s win, Atlanta is 19-7 (.731) against Washington. The Braves swept the Nationals in mid April, and took two of three games in early April, to move to 6-1 this season against their hated foe.

Atlanta’s 19 wins over Washington are more than any team the club has faced since 2013. The only teams the Braves have a better winning percentage against: Chicago Cubs (8-1, .889), Minnesota Twins (3-0, 1.000) and Cleveland Indians (3-0, 1.000).