Taking nearly two years off didn't seem to bother Ben Sheets .
The Braves (51-41) signed Sheets to a minor league contract July 1 after he hadn't pitched in the majors since July 19, 2010, because of Tommy John surgery.
The right-hander looked fully recovered Sunday, yielding two hits and striking out five in six scoreless innings of a 6-1 win over the New York Mets . He threw 88 pitches - 57 for strikes.
"He mixed his pitches well, and his command was outstanding," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "A little better than I thought it would be the first time out. He gave us a hell of an opportunity to win the ball game."
Sheets will try to do that again as he faces Washington (53-38) for the first time since tossing a five-hit shutout against the Nationals for Milwaukee on Aug. 9, 2008.
Atlanta is seeking to move closer to Washington after pulling within 2 1/2 games with a stirring victory Friday. The Braves overcame a nine-run deficit to win 11-10 in 11 innings for their largest comeback since 1987.
The Nationals franchise had never blown such a big lead.
"It's a big series, and there's no way we were just going to go down without a fight," Gonzalez said.
Brian McCann , Michael Bourn , Martin Prado and Chipper Jones drove in two runs each in the opener of this four-game set. Freddie Freeman had three hits, continuing a surge that has been key to Atlanta's 9-2 stretch.
Freeman has a .429 average with three homers, six doubles and nine RBIs in those games, as his season average has jumped 24 points to .280. He's 7 for 15 while plating five runs in his last four meetings with the Nationals.
Washington will give the ball to the struggling Edwin Jackson (5-5, 3.89) opposite Sheets. The right-hander has posted a 10.54 ERA in his last three starts after compiling a 2.20 mark over his previous seven.
He was shaky again Monday, surrendering four runs and six hits - one homer - in five-plus innings of a 5-3 loss at Miami.
"I couldn't get into a rhythm - balls wide, balls up, balls down," Jackson said. "When I did throw strikes, it was pretty much across the middle and they were able to hit them."
For the nightcap, the Nationals are planning to recall veteran John Lannan for his 2012 debut. The left-hander is 6-9 with a 4.89 ERA in 18 starts for Triple-A Syracuse this year, losing his last three outings with a 7.27 ERA.
Lannan had spent most of the previous four years with the Nationals, going 10-13 with a 3.70 ERA in 2011. He failed to earn a spot in the rotation during spring training and was demoted, prompting him to ask for a trade.
He's 3-1 with a 1.87 ERA in his last five home starts versus Atlanta.
The Braves will give Randall Delgado (4-9, 4.52) another start in the nightcap. The right-hander, 0-4 with a 5.18 ERA in his last five outings, lost his spot in the rotation upon Sheets' return, but Atlanta needs an extra starter due to the twinbill.
Delgado made it through only four innings June 29 against the Nationals, allowing four runs - two earned - and eight hits in the Braves' 5-4 loss. Atlanta will certainly be hoping for a longer outing this time, with both teams' bullpens already taxed from Friday's wild affair.
|July 14, 2012||Jack Wilson||15-Day DL||Dislocated right pinkie finger|
|July 09, 2012||Andrelton Simmons||Day-to-Day||Broken right pinkie|
|July 09, 2012||Andrelton Simmons||15-Day DL||Broken right pinkie finger|
|July 08, 2012||Andrelton Simmons||Day-to-Day||Broken right pinkie|
|July 05, 2012||Jonny Venters||15-Day DL||Left elbow impingement|
|June 17, 2012||Brandon Beachy||15-Day DL||Right elbow surgery - out for season|
|July 18, 2012||Jhonatan Solano||15-Day DL||Strained right oblique|
|July 01, 2012||Chien-Ming Wang||15-Day DL||Strained right hip|
|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|
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Ben Sheets is giving the Atlanta Braves an unexpected lift in the pennant race.
Then again, it's not that surprising. The four-time All-Star has turned in stellar outings before.
Sheets pitched six shutout innings, Brian McCann and Chipper Jones homered and the Atlanta Braves beat the Washington Nationals 4-0 on Saturday in the opening game of a day-night doubleheader.
Washington removed Bryce Harper from the game after two innings with a left ankle bruise. The rookie outfielder was out of the starting lineup for the nightcap.
Outdueling Nationals starter Edwin Jackson (5-6), Sheets (2-0) extended his scoreless innings streak to 12 in his return after missing last season because of Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. The victory pushed the Braves' winning streak to three and moved them within 1 1/2 games of the NL East-leading Nationals.
"It's been a huge pickup for us," McCann said of adding Sheets to Braves rotation. "To come out here for his two starts and pitch the way he has. Hasn't given up a run, he's pounding the zone and the more you're around him the more you know why he's so successful. He's a competitor, he knows what he's doing."
The Nationals have lost three straight, including the series opener Friday night, blowing a 9-0 lead before falling 11-10 in 11 innings.
The 19-year-old Harper fouled a bunt off his left ankle. MRI exam revealed no break.
"(Bryce) was down hitting, trying to swing with it, and Michael Morse and LaRoche saw him and said he can't even swing. So, that's why I took him out," Johnson said.
McCann's solo homer in the second inning, his 16th of the season and seventh in his last 10 games, gave the Braves their first run. Atlanta added another in the eighth as Michael Bourn scored on a wild pitch by reliever Henry Rodriquez.
Jones, entering as a pinch-hitter in the ninth with a runner on, clobbered the first offering from Ryan Mattheus over the right field wall.
In his second start of the season and with light rain falling intermittently, Sheets threw 91 pitches, allowing five hits with six strikeouts and three walks.
"If you're asking me if I'm surprised I haven't given up a run, yeah," Sheets said. "I'm not surprised that I'm getting people out. I wouldn't have come back if I didn't think I could get anybody out."
The Nationals put runners on in five of the opening six innings. Three times, they had two men on base, but could not capitalize.
Sheets threw a fastball past Adam LaRoche , striking out the slugger with two on to end the first. With runners on the corners and one out in the third, he induced Michael Morse into a double-play grounder.
After allowing a single and one-out walk in the sixth, the 33-year-old nimbly recorded the final two outs, including another strikeout of LaRoche.
"I had a couple of chances to drive some guys in," said LaRoche, who denied any carryover factor from Friday's stunning loss. "(Morse) hits a ball on the screws into a double play. One of those nights, just didn't get enough going."
Washington finished 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position, all against Sheets. Kris Medlin and Chad Durbin combined for three scoreless innings of relief.
Jackson struck out nine to match his season high while allowing five hits and two walks over seven innings. His one mistake, McCann's homer as the high drive landed over the right-center wall. The Braves catcher has homered in three straight games.
"Once I found it, I knew," McCann said of his recent power surge and 11-game hitting streak. "I haven't felt like this since 2008, really."
Bourn finished with two of the Braves' nine hits and had two stolen bases. He swiped third as the front end of a double steal in the eighth inning before scoring on the wild pitch.
Harper's failed bunt attempt came in the bottom of the first inning. Limping and doubled over in pain for several moments, the first time All-Star completed the at-bat by striking out. Harper returned to center field in the second inning, but Roger Bernadina replaced him on defense for the top of the third with the Nationals trailing 1-0.
Bernadina had two hits and threw out Paul Janish attempting to move from first to third on Michael Bourn 's one-out single in the fifth.
The opening game was a makeup for the June 1 rainout. Considering the Braves recent run, one might call the timing of the makeup fortuitous.
"Certainly last night's game you chalk up as a fluke because that doesn't happen very often," Jones said of the nine-run rally. "But to back it up with a solid performance today, now we get some momentum going. I can't think of a better day to have a doubleheader, as nice a roll as we're on."
NOTES: Braves second baseman Dan Uggla finished 0 for 4, all on strikeouts, three coming against Jackson. . With two RBIs, Jones has 1,600 for his career. ... Nationals OF Steve Lombardozzi and Braves 1B Freddie Freeman had their hitting streaks end at 13 and 11 games, respectively. ... The Braves recalled RHP Randall Delgado to start the nightcap of Saturday's doubleheader against John Lannan , making his 2012 debut.