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Francoeurs 7 RBIs pave the way in Braves win
Atlanta Braves’ Yunel Escobar, right, throws to first base for a double play on a ball hit by Washington Nationals’ Lastings Milledge on Saturday in Washington. Out at second is Washington Nationals’ Cristian Guzman. The Braves won 10-2. - photo by The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Jeff Francoeur felt he owed John Smoltz for failing to back Atlanta’s ace with clutch hitting in 2007.

He just didn’t think he’d do it all in one game.

Francoeur had two home runs and a career-high seven RBIs as the Atlanta Braves handed the Washington Nationals their ninth straight loss, 10-2 on Saturday.

“(Smoltz) rode me hard last year. I never gave him any run support,” Francoeur said. “I think I was 0-for-4 every game, so I told him I’d come out and help him a little bit this year. I didn’t expect that.”

Entering the game, Francoeur had four RBIs in 10 games, and he wasn’t pleased.

“I was a little frustrated after last night. Had a chance with the bases loaded and had an awful at-bat,” Francoeur said.

“I wanted to try and make sure I took care of business today and I got some good opportunities and I took care of them, which is nice,” he added. “It’s one of those games you don’t have too often.”

Francoeur had a three-run home run in the first inning, a two-run single in the fourth and a two-run shot in the sixth. His three-run shot, which came after a 91-minute rain delay in the first day game at Nationals Park, enabled Smoltz to take the mound with a 4-0 lead.

“When you can give Smoltzie a lead like that you feel like it’s pretty much over,” Francoeur said.

The Nationals’ skid is their longest since moving to Washington in 2005 from Montreal. The last time the franchise lost nine in a row was the final nine games of the 2000 season.

“Playing catch-up baseball at this level against a guy like John Smoltz is not very good,” Nationals manager Manny Acta said.

Smoltz (2-0) pitched six innings and allowed one run and five hits. He walked two and struck out five — leaving him just 14 strikeouts shy of 3,000.

He earned his 209th career win and 21st against the Montreal-Washington franchise — most against any opponent.

“When we got the four runs, it was like that energy drink stuff — helped me out,” said the 40-year-old Smotlz, who slept just four hours the night before because of a head cold.

Francoeur hit a three-run homer to left in the first off John Lannan (0-2) to make it 4-0. Mark Teixeira drove in the Braves’ first run with an RBI single.

Francoeur then had a two-run single with the bases loaded in the fourth inning off Lannan, and his two-run shot to nearly the same spot in left off Jason Bergmann in the sixth put the Braves ahead 9-1.

Brian McCann, who had three hits, followed Francoeur and hit a home run on the next pitch, the first back-to-back home runs of the season for Atlanta.

After the game, Bergmann was optioned to Triple-A Columbus.

By the time the Braves had the 10-1 lead, Chipper Jones was in the clubhouse getting treatment for two sore quads.

“I told him, before the game, if we get a lead, I’m going to take you out,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said. “It worked out perfectly.”

Lannan pitched four innings, allowing the six runs and nine hits, walking two and striking out one.

Washington scored a run in the fourth off Smoltz on an RBI triple by Willie Harris and one in the seventh on a sacrifice fly by Ryan Zimmerman. Zimmerman had two hits — ending his 0-for-16 slump, which tied the longest in his career.

“Any time you get down that much with (Smoltz) on the mound, you’re thinking ‘Oh, no,”’ Zimmerman said. “But it’s still early in the season. Every team in the big leagues is going to lose more than five in a row at one point.”

Notes: The Nationals reactivated RHP Chad Cordero from the 15-day disabled list. Cordero had been out with tendinitis in his right shoulder. ...Washington plans to reactivate OF Wily Mo Pena from the 15-day disabled list on Sunday. He’s been out with a strained left side muscle. ... Cox said he expected Jones to play Sunday. ... Atlanta released INF Scott Spiezio from its Triple-A Richmond affiliate. Spiezio pleaded guilty to misdemeanor drunken driving on April 7, was let go because “he was not ready to play” on Friday, Braves general manager Frank Wren said. ... Washington INF Kory Casto, who’s currently assigned to Triple-A Columbus, underwent surgery on a broken bone in his right hand on Saturday. He’s expected to be out four to six weeks.

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