Atlanta beats Washington for second straight day

The Washington Nationals have baseball's most ballyhooed pitching staff. But since last year's All-Star break, the Atlanta Braves have been unmatched in the majors, entering Saturday with an ERA of 2.78.

In Washington on Saturday, the Braves reduced it a little further. Tim Hudson and two relievers allowed just four base runners in a 3-1 victory before 41,992, the fifth-largest crowd in Nationals Park history.

Many of them came to see Stephen Strasburg (1-2). The Nats right-hander did little to disappoint, limiting Atlanta to five hits and a walk while fanning seven in six innings. But for the second time in less than 16 hours, a costly Ryan Zimmerman throwing error paved the way for the decisive unearned runs.

Throwing wide of first base on a two-out chopper by Justin Upton, Zimmerman forced Strasburg to deal with rookie cleanup hitter Evan Gattis, who deposited his fourth home run of the year into the seats overlooking the Braves' bullpen, giving Atlanta (10-1) all the runs it needed for its seventh straight win.

"It was just a bad throw. I made an error," Zimmerman said. "I'll make more as the year goes on. Unfortunately today they took advantage of it. Stephen threw the ball so well today. When that happens in a game like that, you feel bad. But that's part of the game."

Gattis, a replacement this season for injured All-Star catcher Brian McCann, hit a pitch that was way up in the strike zone.

"The guy's up there hacking. I got one up [around] his neck, and he tomahawks it out," Strasburg said. "Previous at bat, I was missing up there a little bit. I decided to try to go fastball away, and I did it again and ran into one. You don't face a guy like that ever, don't really have any book to go off of."

On Sunday the Braves will try to complete a sweep of Washington (7-4), throwing left-hander Paul Maholm (2-0), who has yet to surrender an earned run, against Gio Gonzalez (1-0, 0.82 ERA).

The Nats will try to solve a Braves staff that has limited them to one run and seven hits over the last 17 innings. They likely will have to do it without catcher Wilson Ramos, who suffered a hamstring injury running to first base in the eighth inning. Nats manager Davey Johnson said it appeared severe enough to require a stint on the disabled list.

There was no disabling Hudson (2-0) on Saturday. In winning the 199th game of his career, the 37-year-old right-hander allowed four hits without a walk and fanned three over seven innings, improving to 15-5 lifetime against Washington.

"He's our horse. He's our ace," Braves first baseman Chris Johnson said. "It is really comfortable to play behind him."

Hudson got stronger as the game progressed. After Danny Espinosa hit his first home run of the season in the fourth inning, Hudson didn't allow another runner to reach base. Relievers Eric O'Flaherty and Craig Kimbrel (six saves) followed suit as Braves pitchers set down the final 13 Nats hitters.

"When you're behind them in the late innings, it's tough," Zimmerman said. "Sometimes we'll get them, but these last two games they've been solid."