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 have recalled 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, was sent to the minors 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) -- On the verge of a major stumble, Bryce Harper and the Washington Nationals proved resilient.
After Friday's 11-inning demoralizing defeat, the Nationals promptly lost the opener of Saturday's doubleheader and the prized rookie to an injured ankle. Without Harper in the starting lineup for the nightcap, Washington fell behind by two runs in the first inning.
But the 19-year-old returned to single and score as a pinch-hitter, Roger Bernadina had a tiebreaking hit in the seventh inning and Washington earned a split of the day-night doubleheader with a 5-2 victory over Atlanta on Saturday night.
The Braves won the first game 4-0 behind Ben Sheets ' strong performance.
Instead of another loss and barely maintaining its division lead, John Lannan helped Washington snap a three-game losing streak and move ahead of Atlanta in the NL East by 2 1/2 games.
"I think most of the guys in this locker room felt like it was a must win tonight," said closer Tyler Clippard , who pitched the ninth inning for his 16th save. "If they took three from us right away, it would have been a pretty big blow. To get this win tonight, John stepped up in a huge way for us, pitched great and our offense came through when we needed, too. It was a huge win."
In between games, Nationals manager Davey Johnson said the MRI on Harper showed no break though he kept his centerfielder out of the starting lineup for Game 2.
Harper entered in the eighth and singled, stole second and scored on Danny Espinosa 's single to right. The first-time All-Star stayed in as the right fielder in the ninth.
"It feels all right," Harper said. "Once I get going, that's when it feels good. When I sit down, that's when it feels bad."
Bernadina, who entered as a defensive replacement after Harper fouled a bunt off his left ankle in the first inning of the first game, finished 5 of 7 on the day including a go-ahead RBI single in the night game.
Lannan (1-0) pitched seven innings for the win.
Cristhian Martinez (4-2) allowed three runs - two earned - in 1 2-3 innings of relief behind starter Randall Delgado .
In the opener, Sheets (2-0) pitched six shutout innings, Brian McCann and Chipper Jones homered. Outdueling Nationals starter Edwin Jackson (5-6), Sheets extended his scoreless innings streak to 12 in his return after missing last season because of Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.
Harper gave signs that he would play in the second game when he stepped into the on-deck circle in the seventh.
After Sandy Leon 's leadoff single and with the scored tied at two, Johnson instead turned to pinch-hitter Mark DeRosa , whose sacrifice bunt advanced Leon to second. One out later, Bernadina's grounder into right field scored Leon.
Harper's failed bunt attempt came in the bottom of the day's first inning. Limping and doubled over in pain for several moments, he completed the at-bat by striking out. Harper returned to center field in the second inning, but Bernadina replaced him on defense for the top of the third with the Nationals trailing 1-0.
"(Bryce) was down hitting, trying to swing with it, and Michael Morse and (Adam))LaRoche saw him and said he can't even swing. So, that's why I took him out," Johnson said.
The kid thought he could tough it out.
"I didn't think I broke something," Harper said. "Pain doesn't really get to me much. I think if he would have left me in there I could have played, definitely."
Riding the momentum of the earlier win - their third straight - the Braves jumped ahead 2-0 in the first. Jones stroked a two-out, RBI double into the right-center gap of Lannan and Freddie Freeman followed with an RBI hit.
Jones hit a two-run, pinch-hit home run in the first game.
Recalled from Triple-A Syracuse, Lannan settled down and held the Braves scoreless over the next six innings, not allowing a hit over his final four innings. Despite a 4.89 ERA in the minors, the Nationals' leader with 10 wins last season allowed only five hits, walked two, struck out three and hit two batters before the sellout crowd of 40,007.
Including Friday's loss, the Nationals failed to score for 15 innings before scratching across a run in the fifth and six innings against Delgado. Trailing 2-0, Espinosa raced home from third with two outs in the fifth on a wild pitch.
Washington loaded the bases with no outs in the sixth on two singles and a hit batter. Ian Desmond 's RBI groundout tied it at 2.
Also brought up from the minors to pitch game two, Delgado allowed two runs and six hits over six innings.
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.
Jackson struck out nine to match his season high while allowing five hits and two walks over seven innings. His one mistake was McCann's solo homer in the second inning, the 16th of the season for the Braves catcher and his seventh in 10 games.
NOTES: With three RBIs, Jones has 1,601 for his career. ... Nationals OF Jayson Werth (wrist) finished 1 of 3 with a walk in his first rehab assignment at single-A Potomac. .Braves starter Jair Jurrjens faces Ross Detwiler in Sunday's series finale.