WASHINGTON — It wasn’t exactly a slight of hand, but Tim Hudson’s pitching performance Friday night sure looked magical.
Hudson scattered three hits over eight innings, outpitching Matt Chico and helping the Atlanta Braves beat Washington 3-0 and send the Nationals to their eighth straight loss.
Hudson, who said he’d been suffering from a head cold for the last week, made all eight innings look easy, even though he admitted to running out of gas at the end.
"It was all I could do to get through that eighth, to be honest with you," he said. "I felt like I was Houdini out there."
Hudson (2-0) struck out five and walked two in improving to 6-1 all-time against the Nationals. Yunel Escobar hit a solo home run in the sixth inning, and the Braves added two runs in the ninth on a bases-loaded single by Matt Diaz.
Chico (0-2) gave Washington eight strong innings, allowing one run and five hits with a walk and three strikeouts. It was the longest outing of his career, but his only pitch to Escobar in the sixth inning cost him the game.
"That’s the biggest thing for me," Chico said. "I gave up that run and we lost. It’s my fault."
Chico made one mistake. Hudson didn’t make any.
Only once did Hudson allow a baserunner to second — Lastings Milledge advanced Cristian Guzman on a sacrifice bunt in the fourth inning.
Guzman had singled to lead off the fourth, and Hudson did not allow another hit until Austin Kearns singled in the seventh. Kearns was then caught stealing, a fitting end to the Nationals’ only baserunner in the final four innings.
"Hudson pitched a great game tonight," said Nationals left fielder Willie Harris, who was 0-for-2. "I wouldn’t say we beat ourselves. I’d say Hudson beat us tonight."
Peter Moylan retired the side in the ninth for his first save of the season. He said he was as impressed with Hudson’s performance as anyone.
"I haven’t seen (Hudson) fail yet," Moylan said. "It seems every game he’s in he throws six, seven innings of shutout baseball. It’s amazing to watch."
Escobar opened the scoring by barely clearing the out-of-town video scoreboard on the right field wall. His second homer of the year gave the Braves a 1-0 lead, a cushion that gave Hudson a little breathing room against Chico.
"I was excited," Hudson said. "(Chico) looked really good. He was putting up zeros, and it had the feel of one of those games going late into the game scoreless on both sides."
Other than the home run pitch, Chico was nearly as dominant as Hudson. He retired eight straight batters and 11 of 12 before Escobar’s home run.
"(Chico) was nasty tonight," Diaz said. "We feel Tim Hudson right now is the best pitcher in baseball and he matched him pitch for pitch."
Chico’s performance wasn’t enough to end the Nationals’ slide, though. Their eight-game losing streak is the longest since also dropping eight straight from May 1-8, 2007.
Washington manager Manny Acta had called a closed-door meeting before the game to address the losing streak. During the meeting, Acta told his players that small errors were hurting them in close contests. It happened once again Friday night.
"The hits are going to start falling," Harris said. "We have to keep clawing, and it will get better."
Notes: Atlanta LHP Mike Hampton threw 40-50 pitches before the game and plans to throw again on Sunday. He’s on the 15-day disabled list (left pectoral muscle). ... Washington RHP Chad Cordero pitched a perfect inning in his second rehab assignment for Class-A Potomac. Cordero, who’s been on the 15-day disabled list (right shoulder tendenitis), said he threw just seven pitches and hopes to be reactivated in the next few days. ... Nationals 3B Ryan Zimmerman was 0-for-4. He’s hitless in his last 16 at-bats. ... Washington 1B Dmitri Young had an epidural injection in his spine. He’s on the 15-day disabled list with a lower back strain.