WASHINGTON — Ben Sheets is giving the Atlanta Braves an unexpected lift in the pennant race.
Then again, it’s not that surprising. The four-time All-Star has turned in stellar outings before.
Sheets pitched six shutout innings, Brian McCann and Chipper Jones homered and the Atlanta Braves beat the Washington Nationals 4-0 on Saturday in the opening game of a day-night doubleheader. The Braves dropped the nightcap 5-2
Outdueling Nationals starter Edwin Jackson (5-6), Sheets (2-0) extended his scoreless innings streak to 12 in his return after missing last season because of Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. The victory pushed the Braves’ winning streak to three and moved them within 1½ games of the NL East-leading Nationals.
“It’s been a huge pickup for us,” McCann said of adding Sheets to Braves rotation. “To come out here for his two starts and pitch the way he has. Hasn’t given up a run, he’s pounding the zone and the more you’re around him the more you know why he’s so successful. He’s a competitor, he knows what he’s doing.”
McCann’s solo homer in the second inning, his 16th of the season and seventh in his last 10 games, gave the Braves their first run. Atlanta added another in the eighth as Michael Bourn scored on a wild pitch by reliever Henry Rodriquez.
Jones, entering as a pinch-hitter in the ninth with a runner on, clobbered the first offering from Ryan Mattheus over the right field wall.
In his second start of the season and with light rain falling intermittently, Sheets threw 91 pitches, allowing five hits with six strikeouts and three walks.
“If you’re asking me if I’m surprised I haven’t given up a run, yeah,” Sheets said. “I’m not surprised that I’m getting people out. I wouldn’t have come back if I didn’t think I could get anybody out.”
Washington finished 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position, all against Sheets.
Bryce Harper returned from an ankle injury sustained in the first game to single and score as a pinch-hitter, and Roger Bernadina had a tiebreaking hit in the seventh inning to lift Washington in Game 2.
Bernadina, who entered as a defensive replacement after Harper fouled a bunt off his left ankle in the first inning of the opener, had five hits on the day including a seventh inning, go-ahead RBI single in the nightcap.
In between games, Nationals manager Davey Johnson said the MRI on Harper showed no break. He kept the 19-year-old out of the starting lineup for Game 2.
John Lannan (1-0) pitched seven innings for the win.
Washington snapped a three-game losing streak and lead Atlanta in the NL East by 2 1/2 games.
Cristhian Martinez (4-2) allowed a run in 1⅓innings of relief behind starter Randall Delgado, who allowed two runs in six innings.