The Washington Nationals still have the best ERA in the major leagues, but their pitching staff is going through a rough stretch.
Giving the ball to Gio Gonzalez could help the NL East leaders finish off their 10-game trip on a positive note.
With temperatures in Atlanta again expected to reach triple digits, Gonzalez will try to match the major league lead in road wins in Sunday's series finale.
A 3.15 staff ERA has carried the Nationals to the top of the division, but Washington (44-32) has compiled a 5.87 ERA and .319 opponent batting average in its last six games, allowing four runs or more in each of them.
The bullpen is overworked, logging 15 innings over the last three contests. Ace Stephen Strasburg left after three innings of Saturday's 7-5 loss due to weather-related issues. According to the National Weather Service, Atlanta recorded its hottest-ever temperature at 106 degrees.
The temperature in Atlanta on Sunday is forecast to reach 104.
"I don't know if anybody had the advantage today, but we play here," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez told the team's official website after his club ended a four-game home losing streak to Washington. "I know it gets hot in D.C., but we play here. This is our field, and we're used to the conditions. Maybe not extreme, but it shouldn't be a problem for us."
Pitching on the road hasn't been an issue for Gonzalez (10-3, 2.78 ERA), who is 6-1 with a 3.13 ERA in eight starts outside the nation's capital, including a 7-2 victory over Atlanta on May 27 when he allowed two runs and one hit - a Michael Bourn triple. He also might have less trouble than some in the heat, as he is a Florida native.
Gonzalez, who can match Texas' Matt Harrison for the most road wins in the majors, can also become the first left-handed 11-game winner for the Nationals franchise since it relocated from Montreal in 2005. John Lannan (10-13 in 2011) is Washington's only other southpaw to reach double-digit victories.
While the Nationals will try to finish their trip at .500, the Braves (41-36), who have dropped five of seven to Washington this season, have a chance to move within 2 1/2 games of first place for the first time since June 10, when they were two games back.
"They've obviously had our number the last 10 or 12 games," said Atlanta second baseman Dan Uggla , who had an RBI double Saturday after being held out of the lineup for the first time this season in Friday's 5-4 loss. "They've got great pitching and a great lineup. But so do we. It's time we turn the corner."
Tim Hudson (6-3, 3.58) could make that happen Sunday when he tries to win a season-best third consecutive start.
The veteran right-hander is 14-4 with a 2.35 ERA in 24 starts against the Nationals/Expos franchise, but he surrendered a season-high seven runs in a 7-4 home loss to Washington on May 25.
Ryan Zimmerman had a three-run double off Hudson in that contest, but the Nationals third baseman is batting .154 (4 for 26) in the last six games between these clubs.
Washington right fielder Michael Morse is batting .536 with two homers and six RBIs during a six-game hitting streak, and is also riding a string of five straight multihit games.
Bourn, who has an RBI in a career-high five consecutive games, is 3 for 5 against Gonzalez.
No Braves player has homered off Gonzalez, who is giving up a major league-low .30 home runs per nine innings.
|June 30, 2012||Stephen Strasburg||Day-to-Day||Left game - heat exhaustion|
|June 24, 2012||Xavier Nady||15-Day DL||Right wrist tendinitis|
|June 17, 2012||Ian Desmond||Day-to-Day||Oblique soreness|
|June 11, 2012||Roger Bernadina||Day-to-Day||Left game - strained right hamstring|
|June 10, 2012||Bryce Harper||Day-to-Day||Sore back|
|June 06, 2012||Henry Rodriguez||15-Day DL||Strained right index finger|
|June 17, 2012||Brandon Beachy||15-Day DL||Right elbow surgery - out for season|
|June 16, 2012||Brandon Beachy||Day-to-Day||Left game - Right elbow soreness|
|June 13, 2012||Freddie Freeman||Day-to-Day||Left thumb discomfort|
|June 12, 2012||Eric O'Flaherty||Day-to-Day||Left elbow soreness|
|June 09, 2012||Tim Hudson||Day-to-Day||Bone spurs in left ankle|
|June 02, 2012||Brian McCann||Day-to-Day||Left game - bruised left knee|
ATLANTA (AP) -- Ryan Zimmerman was pleased to escape Atlanta's insufferable heat with another series victory over the Braves.
"The last two days, it's been tough," the Washington third baseman said. "It's not as bad for us as the pitchers, I think, but just having it beat down on you for 3 1/2 hours, it takes it out of you."
Zimmerman homered and drove in four runs and Gio Gonzalez scuffled for his sixth straight road victory to help the Washington Nationals beat the Atlanta Braves 8-4 Sunday in 105-degree heat.
The temperature rose four degrees from the first pitch to 105 by the middle of the eighth inning. The National Weather Service reported that Atlanta broke an all-time record high at 106 on Saturday.
"It's 120 out there," said Davey Johnson, Washington's 69-year-old manager. "I was sweating more in this one than I was yesterday. It was really hot."
Gonzalez (11-3) capped his second All-Star selection despite allowing five hits, four runs and four walks in five-plus innings. He struck out four and threw strikes in 64 of 114 pitches.
Washington, which has won four of five, took a 4-0 lead in the first off Tim Hudson (6-4). The NL-leading Nationals are 10-2-1 in their last 13 series matchups against the Braves.
Atlanta has lost three of four overall and has dropped 17 of its last 28 games against Washington at Turner Field.
"When you play a team in your division as much as we play each other, those things kind of go back and forth a little bit," Zimmerman said. "I remember years ago we couldn't lose to the Marlins and now we haven't been able to beat them lately. It's just one of those things."
Tyler Clippard retired Michael Bourn , Martin Prado and Jason Heyward on groundouts to end the game. Since taking over the closer's role on May 22, Clippard has worked 15 1-3 scoreless innings.
Zimmerman made it 2-0 by hitting a two-run double to center over Bourn and later scored on Adam LaRoche 's sacrifice fly. Ian Desmond followed with a walk and scored from first when Bourn allowed Rick Ankiel 's single to bounce past him for an error.
Washington went ahead 5-1 in the fifth when Zimmerman hit his sixth homer into the second level of left-field seats. After adding a run-scoring single in the ninth, Zimmerman had his first four-RBI game since Aug. 19, 2011, against Philadelphia.
"I think I'm healthier than I was before," Zimmerman said. "You have a few good games in a row and your confidence gets going, and that's the name of the game. We've got to get some confidence, build momentum and just roll with it."
The Nationals led 6-1 in the sixth after Desmond doubled, moved to third on a wild pitch and scored on Jhonatan Solano 's RBI single.
Freddie Freeman 's 10th homer, a three-run shot to deep center, cut the lead to 6-4 and chased Gonzalez with no outs in the sixth.
"I was just trying to attack the zone," Gonzalez said. "It was dropping a little bit, my arm slot, but the bullpen came in and cleaned up my mess. They did a great job and I can't do nothing but tip my hat and tell them, `Thank you so much.' "
One day after watching his ace Stephen Strasburg leave the game after three innings in record-setting heat, Johnson replaced Gonzalez with Craig Stammen , who retired six of seven batters.
Hudson allowed eight hits and five earned runs in six innings, dropping to 0-2 with an 8.53 ERA in two starts against the Nationals this season. He began the game with a 14-4 record and a 2.35 ERA in 24 career starts against Washington.
"I was going to pitch as long as I could," Hudson said. "It wasn't exactly a great first inning."
Gonzalez overcame a 14-pitch at-bat by Andrelton Simmons that resulted in a second-inning walk with two out. Ross followed with a hard single, and Hudson walked before Gonzalez escaped the bases-loaded threat when Bourn lined out.
Chipper Jones ' RBI single cut the lead to 4-1 in the third, but Gonzalez settled down and needed just nine pitches to make it through the fourth.
Gonzalez, who pitched for Oakland last season, improved to 11-1 with a 2.85 ERA in his last 13 road starts.
"It's good to see when the offense is out there and they're pulling for you every inning," Gonzalez said. "I just wanted to do my best to keep us in the game as long as possible. They did the job and hit the nail on the head in the ninth inning."
NOTES: The Braves reported a crowd of 18,796. Most of the seats in the lower level sections were sparsely filled as fans spent most of the game sitting in shaded areas. ... Atlanta signed RHP Ben Sheets to a minor league contract before the game. Sheets, 33, hasn't pitched since 2010. He will start Wednesday for Double-A Mississippi. ... Bourn went 0 for 4 and struck out in his first three at-bats. ... Gonzalez allowed just one homer in his first 14 starts, but has given up three in his last two. ... Hudson allowed just one homer in first eight starts, but has given up three in his last four. ... Zimmerman is hitting .378 with three homers and 13 RBIs in his last eight games.