ATLANTA — The Atlanta Braves have some big questions in their rotation as they try to protect their big lead in the NL wild-card race.
Jair Jurrjens’ second-half struggles continued as he gave up six runs, including a three-run homer to Ryan Zimmerman, and the Washington Nationals beat the Braves 9-2 on Tuesday night.
The Braves began the night nine games ahead of San Francisco in the NL wild-card race. They fell 7½ games behind Philadelphia in the NL East.
Zimmerman and Michael Morse each had three hits. Morse hit a homer and drove in three runs, and Danny Espinosa and Laynce Nix also hit homers for Washington.
Jurrjens was 12-3 before the All-Star break while allowing only five homers in 16 starts. He is 1-3 since the break while giving up nine homers in seven starts. He has allowed four or more runs in five of the seven starts.
The right-hander was making his first start in seven days as the Braves were coming off an unusual three-day break after two games at the New York Mets were postponed by Tropical Storm Irene. But he wouldn’t blame his rough outing on the long layoff.
“I just left a lot of pitches up and over the middle,” Jurrjens said.
Jurrjens’ slump has come as another top starter, Tommy Hanson, faces an uncertain outlook for the final month and the postseason.
An MRI on Friday showed a small tear in Hanson’s right rotator cuff that won’t require surgery. Hanson met with Dr. James Andrews on Monday and said Tuesday he has been cleared to start rehabbing.
Hanson has been on the disabled list since Aug. 7.
Jurrjens (13-6) gave up six runs, matching his season high set in a no-decision against the Nationals on July 17. He allowed eight hits, including three homers, in six innings. He has allowed 17 runs in three starts against Washington this season.
“I look like I’m throwing batting practice against them at times,” Jurrjens said. “They’re making adjustments and I’m not making adjustments.
The Braves were shut down by Livan Hernandez (8-12). Hernandez allowed two runs on five hits and three walks in seven innings.
“My kind of game there,” said Washington manager Davey Johnson. “That’s what I’m talking about. I live for games like that.”
Jurrjens’ troubles began when Morse led off the second with a long homer into the second section of seats in the left-field stands. Morse added a run-scoring double in the third.
“His breaking ball just kept going over the plate,” said Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez of Jurrjens.
“His stuff just wasn’t quite there. …Usually when you give up a home run or a hard-hit ball in the gap, you don’t hit your location.”