ATLANTA — Here are three things we learned from the Braves’ 8-1 triumph over the Nationals on Tuesday, aka the night of Tim Hudson’s 200th career victory:
1. The third time was the charm in Hudson’s bid for 200
In the press box during the latter innings, we had a tough time confirming whether Hudson became the 111th or 113th pitcher to enter the 200 Club (Baseball Reference, Fan Graphs and Wikipedia all say 113).
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But that research could not compare to the needle-in-the-haystack task of instantly verifying how many MLB pitchers had belted a homer on the same night of capturing 200. But eventually, the answer came (from Stats, Inc):
Hudson and Hall of Famer Bob Lemon (1956 with the Indians) are the only pitchers to pull off the double feat.
Hudson’s homer came in the fifth inning, launching a Zach Duke fastball to the wall in right field … before getting some, uh, assistance from Washington slugger Bryce Harper, who partially deflected the ball into the seats.
“It was a fun game, kind of surreal. Obviously, no one expects to hit a home run (too),” said Hudson, who now has 108 wins with the Braves.
The 37-year-old was happy with his fastball and overall command against the Nationals, of course. But he also enjoyed the fruits of his plate magic — now three homers over 15 big-league seasons.
“I couldn’t have written it up any better,” said Hudson, who entertained a large contingent of family members after the milestone win. “To go out there and have some fun from start to finish … that was the cherry on top.”
Hudson had fallen short of securing No. 200 in two previous road starts, against the Pirates (April 19) and Rockies (April 24 — a game the Braves led 5-3 heading into the ninth).
For more insight to Hudson’s milestone victory, click here.
2. Chris Johnson is simply too hot to stick in one part of the Atlanta lineup
Heading into Tuesday, Johnson had logged 20 starts at four different slots with the Braves — the 4-hole (one), 5-hole (eight), 6-hole (one) and 7-hole (10). So, in that respect, he might not have been surprised to see his name second against Nationals lefty Gio Gonzalez.
Here’s the thing, though: According to Baseball Reference, Johnson had never batted higher than third on any day as a starter, over five MLB seasons. Not with the Astros, Diamondbacks or Braves.
As the National League’s current batting leader at .369, Johnson (2 for 5 with one RBI and two runs vs. Washington) has quickly adapted to a new team, new city and new rationale for lineup shuffling, with Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez playing the benevolent role of mad scientist.
But the stellar numbers (two homers, nine RBI, .391 OBP, .915 OPS) are merely an extension of Johnson’s sterling run from last September with Arizona, notching two homers, 14 RBI, a .355 batting average, .400 OBP, .565 slugging and .965 OPS during that span.
Not bad for a proverbial throw-in to the Justin Upton blockbuster from late January.
3. The gap between the Braves and Nationals keeps widening by the day One month does not a season make, but Atlanta encountered little difficulty in handling Washington during April, topping the Nationals in five straight games and taking the overall run count, 29-8.
Perhaps worse, from the Nats’ perspective, co-aces Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez (Tuesday’s loser — five runs allowed in four innings) took the hill in four of the five defeats.
For what it’s worth, the Nationals (13-14) posted six consecutive winning months last season, eventually leading to 98 victories and a National League East title.
In that respect, the recently completed April garners extra attention, considering how the Braves (17-9) have accumulated the Senior Ciruit’s best record — without substantial contributions from B.J. Upton (.143 batting, .225 OBP), Dan Uggla (.169 batting) or Jason Heyward (five RBI, .121 batting).
In Washington’s defense, it’s hard to beat a good team — with strong motivation to get Hudson his 200th at home — with a lineup that comprises Tyler Moore (1 for 3) and Chad Tracy (0 for 3) … instead of Ryan Zimmerman (on the disabled list) and Jayson Werth (shin injury from Monday).
Perhaps a new month will elicit momentum changes in the Braves-Nats rivalry. But right now, that’s just a thought based on fleeting evidence.
“We’ve got a good book on the (Nationals hitters),” said Braves rookie Evan Gattis, who finished his first MLB month with six homers and 14 RBI.
Especially on special nights when the pitcher of record refuses to lose.