The Braves followed up their improbable 11-10 comeback victory Friday night by outdueling the Nationals in a 4-0 win in the first game of Saturday's doubleheader. Atlanta will look to cut Washington's lead from 1 1/2 games in the National League East with another win in the nightcap. Washington got some bad news in the opener, which Bryce Harper exited after two innings after fouling a ball off his left ankle.
"This is a big day," Washington manager Davey Johnson said prior to his team dropping Game 1. "We're playing the second-place club. Even last year, when we'd go in and play clubs that were ahead of us -- Atlanta when they were fighting for the pennant, Philly -- we get up for those games. They like to get up for the toughest competition."
Despite the two losses in the last 24 hours, the Nationals are still 6-4 against the Braves this season.
"It's the same emotion over on the Atlanta side," Johnson said, "except they need to prove themselves that they can beat us and get back on top. The emotion's going to be the same both ways."
After Ben Sheets and a pair of relievers outdueled Edwin Jackson and the Washington bullpen in the afternoon tilt, the Braves will turn to Randall Delgado (4-9, 4.52 ERA) in the nightcap as they look to continue their push.
The Nationals will counter with John Lannan, who was added to the roster as their 26th man for the doubleheader. Lannan will make his season debut after going 10-13 with a 3.70 ERA in 33 starts a season ago.
"I expect him to throw well," Johnson said. "He pitched well for me last year, won the most games for us. He's a competitor. I talked to him, and he's looking forward to the chance to come up here and help us. He's had a tough row to hoe but I think he's handled it the right way. ... I'm expecting a good outing out of him. He's strong, and he's a competitor."
As for the Braves, the two wins to start the weekend have them in position to overtake the Nats atop the division if they can close out the four-game set with wins Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.
"This is a big series for both clubs," Braves skipper Fredi Gonzalez said prior to the weekend set. "We could make up a lot of ground, and Davey is probably over there talking about getting a little bigger lead on us."
Braves: Jones expected to start Game 2
Third baseman Chipper Jones returned to the lineup on Friday after missing two starts with right knee soreness, but he didn't start the first game of Saturday's twin bill. Jones entered the game in the ninth inning and delivered some insurance with a pinch-hit two-run homer and is expected to start the nightcap.
In his final season, the 40-year-old third baseman is hitting .313 with nine homers and 39 RBIs.
Nationals: Injured Harper exits Game 1 early
Harper left the first game of the doubleheader shortly after fouling a ball off his left ankle. It wasn't immediately known whether he'd be available for the nightcap.
Harper fouled a bunt attempt on the second pitch of his first-inning at-bat but remained in the game at the time. He struck out one pitch later and, though he played the field in the second inning, he was replaced by Roger Bernadina to start the third.
Subsequent to reinstating Xavier Nady from the disabled list Saturday, the Nationals designated the outfielder for assignment. The Nats also designated outfielder Rick Ankiel for assignment earlier in the week.
Braves outfielder Matt Diaz was placed on the disabled list Saturday and is hoping to avoid season-ending surgery on his right thumb. Unfortunately for Diaz, he is 14-for-33 [.424] against Lannan, Saturday night's starter.