ATLANTA — Kenshin Kawakami overcame some early jitters to put together an impressive major league debut Saturday night.
Kawakami pitched six effective innings and Kelly Johnson drove in three runs, leading the Atlanta Braves to a 5-3 victory over the Washington Nationals.
Kawakami allowed three runs and four hits, walked four and struck out eight. The 33-year-old right-hander is the first Japanese-born player in franchise history.
“I thought for his first appearance in the United States, he was outstanding, a great addition to the team,” Atlanta manager Bobby Cox said.
Johnson went 3-for-4 one night after he had the game-winning hit in the 10th inning of a 6-5 win over the Nationals. Chipper Jones and Yunel Escobar had run-scoring singles for Atlanta.
“I’m seeing the ball pretty good, but I think it’s Kenshin’s night — his first win in America,” Johnson said. “Since Day 1 in spring training I’ve loved him because he just mixes it up. He goes in and out, changes speeds and throws strikes.”
Kawakami joined the Braves in January, agreeing to a three-year deal as a free agent. The 2004 Central League MVP won 112 games in 11 seasons in Japan.
Kawakami kept the Nationals off balance with a fastball in the low 90s, a slider in the mid-80s and a changeup at 67-68 mph. He started a little shaky, walking two with two outs in the first and giving up Nick Johnson’s RBI single. Zimmerman made it 3-0 with a drive into the right-field stands in the third.
“I wasn’t nervous, I was excited,” Kawakami said through an interpreter. “A little too excited.”
Kawakami didn’t allow a hit after Zimmerman’s homer. He threw 89 pitches, 54 for strikes.
“KK did good,” Jones said. “He started a little wild, but effectively wild.”
Mike Gonzalez worked the ninth for his first save in his second attempt.
Ryan Zimmerman had a two-run homer for the Nationals, who dropped to 0-5. John Lannan (0-2) gave up four runs and nine hits in six innings.
Washington has lost nine straight dating to last season.
“We’re just getting beat, it’s not for a lack of trying,” manager Manny Acta said. “We’ve got to show up ready to win. We can’t feel sorry for ourselves.
“There’s no reason to show panic. I guarantee we’ll not go 0-for-April.”
Johnson led off the third with his second homer to cut the Nationals’ lead to 3-1. He also had a two-run double in the Braves’ three-run fourth.
Rookie Jordan Schafer went 3-for-4 and scored two runs for Atlanta.
Notes: More than two dozen Japanese media were on hand for Kawakami’s debut. ... Atlanta LHP Tom Glavine will throw 50 to 60 pitches in a rehab assignment with Double-A Mississippi on Sunday. ... Washington RF Elijah Dukes missed the game with a mild right groin strain. He injured throwing home Friday night when Atlanta’s Jordan Schafer scored the winning run. ... Atlanta RHP Peter Moylan, who had not retired a batter in two games, struck out the side in the seventh on 12 pitches. ... Atlanta LF Garret Anderson still had some soreness in his right calf and did not start for the third straight game. ... In pregame ceremonies, Atlanta 3B Jones received a Silver Bat from Louisville Slugger as the 2008 NL batting champion and another award as Braves 2008 Player of the Year. C Brian McCann received his second career NL Silver Slugger Award as league’s top hitting catcher.