WASHINGTON -- Rick Ankiel's power and Livan Hernandez's arm proved to be the difference as the Nationals defeated the Braves, 5-3, at Nationals Park on Monday night.
Since being activated from the disabled list on July 1, Ankiel has been hot, going 18-for-55 (.327) with a .367 on-base percentage entering Monday's action. He continued that trend by hitting a leadoff home run off right-hander Jair Jurrjens in the first.
Atlanta would tie the game at 1 in the top of the second inning, when Dan Uggla launched a home run over the right-center-field wall.
Washington would retake the lead in bottom of the second. After Wilson Ramos was walked intentionally to put runners on first and second, Hernandez helped himself with an RBI single, scoring Jayson Werth.
"You have to treat him like a hitter, but it's a situation where he's hitting .188 and the other guy [Ramos] is a regular position player. You have to respect him in that situation," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said.
Hernandez pitched six solid innings, allowing one run on six hits. It was the antithesis of his last two starts in which he allowed 12 runs in 11 2/3 innings without much of a sinker, his bread-and-butter pitch. The sinker came back to life on Tuesday.
"I lost the sinker for like two starts," Hernandez said. "I worked in the bullpen and tried to fix it. It was working very good to today. It was still a little up. Uggla's home run was a sinker up. You can't make a mistake with people like that. You leave the ball up, you know what happens. You could see it today."
The Nationals extended their lead in the top of the fifth inning, with Ankiel hitting his second home run of the game. It marked the fifth time in his career Ankiel has had a multihomer game.
Manager Davey Johnson has seen a difference in Ankiel at the plate. When Johnson took over as manager, Ankiel was a fourth outfielder, however, once Roger Bernadina was sent down to Triple-A Syracuse, Ankiel is getting most of the playing time.
"It's awfully hard to sit, especially if you are capable of being a power hitter like he is when you are getting two starts maybe twice every week," Johnson said. "Now he is [playing] and he has cut down on his strikeouts, his swings are better. That comes with playing. In the last couple of years, I don't think he has played much."
It appears that Ankiel will continue to hit leadoff for Washington, and that's OK with Johnson.
"I don't have a problem with a guy who can drive in runs hitting leadoff," the skipper said.
Ankiel was modest about his hot hitting.
"You just look for a pitch to drive. Sometimes you get it, sometimes you make it happen, sometimes you don't," Ankiel said. "Lately, I've been making good contact and good things are happening."
Washington added two more runs in the sixth inning. Laynce Nix would highlight the scoring in that frame with an RBI single.
In his two starts against Washington this season, Jurrjens has allowed 11 runs in 10-plus innings. Werth noticed a difference in the right-hander.
"The last two times we faced him, his velocity wasn't where it was at earlier in the season," Werth said. " I don't know why or whatever. I remember him throwing a little bit harder in past years. Any given night, we could beat any given pitcher -- it just happened to be him tonight."
Said Jurrjens, "They figured out something. I know they're being very aggressive and they figured out something, but I still can't put my finger on it."
The Nationals are on a three-game winning streak and improved to 52-56.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.