WASHINGTON — The Washington Nationals had almost as much trouble at home as they did while dropping their first six road games this season.
After Washington won the first two of a three-game series against Atlanta, Mike Hinckley, part of the Nationals’ new-look bullpen, walked Kelly Johnson with the bases loaded in the ninth inning Wednesday night, giving the Braves a 1-0 victory.
Atlanta won for the second time in seven games. The Nationals dropped to 3-11 — the worst record in the majors.
“It was tough because we had an opportunity to erase the first week of the season by having a great homestand,” Washington manager Manny Acta said.
The Nationals lost five of eight at home during a strange week. It included a rainout, two games with long rain delays, and three late-inning losses to Florida last weekend. Those defeats convinced the team to make major changes in the bullpen.
This game was scoreless through eight, with Jair Jurrjens pitching 7 2-3 innings for Atlanta and John Lannan seven for Washington.
Matt Diaz singled with one out in the ninth against Garrett Mock (0-1) and was forced at second on Casey Kotchman’s grounder. Diaz slid hard into shortstop Alex Cintron’s right shin to break up a potential double play.
Mock then walked Jordan Schafer before Hinckley issued free passes to pinch-hitter Martin Prado and Johnson.
“We needed a win, somehow, like that, because we’d lost too many tough ones almost identical,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said. “It’ll be a boost for them. It’ll be a nice plane ride tonight.”
Mike Gonzalez (1-0) struck out the only batter he faced in relief of Jurrjens. Rafael Soriano earned his second save, pitching a perfect ninth.
Jurrjens allowed six hits, walked two and struck out four. He is 2-1 and he reduced his ERA to a sparkling 1.42.
“It’ll be difficult to top that,” Jurrjens said.
Johnson was just 2-for-12 in the series, and was relieved to get the decisive RBI. He would have preferred Jurrjens get the credit.
“I didn’t have to do anything for that,” Johnson said. “I’d say JJ got this team the win, even though he’s not going to get it in the stat category.”
Washington had two excellent opportunities to score. Ryan Zimmerman extended his hitting streak to 12 games with a leadoff double in the third. He moved to third base on an infield out by Adam Dunn, but Elijah Dukes popped up and Josh Willingham grounded out.
In the seventh, Willingham doubled leading off. He moved to third on Ronnie Belliard’s bunt, but Jesus Flores grounded out and Austin Kearns popped up to end the inning.
“Our situational hitting continues to bury us, to hurt us,” Acta said.
Lannan has yet to win this season. In his first two starts, both losses, he allowed 10 runs in nine innings. In his last two, he’s given up one run and eight hits in 13 1-3 innings.
The left-hander yielded five hits against Atlanta, striking out four and walking two. He pitched out of two jams, too. The Braves had runners on first and third in the second and loaded the bases in the fourth.
Notes: Braves OF Garret Anderson missed his third straight game with a left quadriceps injury. Cox said if Anderson hasn’t improved by Friday’s game in Cincinnati, the team might put him on the disabled list. “We hope he’s better,” Cox said. “We miss him.” ... Cintron started at SS for Washington. Alberto Gonzalez had played the previous six games, but made five errors. ... The Nationals will make up an April 15 game with Philadelphia that was postponed by rain on May 16 as part of a day-night doubleheader.