Gonzalez, hot bats help Nats break out brooms

Even as the Nationals were winning at a first-place pace, their quiet bats were a mild concern into early May.

The Nats scored at least five runs just seven times in their first 31 games, riding their pitching to a 19-12 start. Since then, Washington has scored five or more 10 times in 16 contests with the latest offensive outburst carrying the team to a 7-2 win Sunday night in Atlanta.

The Nats overcame an early 2-0 deficit, tying the Braves with two in the fourth and then taking the lead for good with a four-run outburst in the sixth. The winning rally came with former Washington hurler Livan Hernandez in the game, as he was charged with three in the sixth after relieving Brandon Beachy.

With that, the Nats completed their first three-game sweep of the season. Robust runs totals highlighted the series, as Washington won 7-4 Friday and 8-4 Saturday, making this the first time the Nats have scored at least six in three consecutive contests in 2012.

Steve Lombardozzi and Jesus Flores each had two RBIs for Washington, while Bryce Harper hit his fourth homer in the eighth.

After Flores’ three-hit performance, his night came to an early end. The Nats might’ve suffered their latest catching casualty when Flores hurt himself running the bases in the seventh. He was replaced by Carlos Maldonado.

While the Nats’ bats were perhaps the primary reason the team won its sixth in seven games to improve to 29-18, starter Gio Gonzalez had plenty to do with it as well.

In a hyped pitching matchup with Beachy, who entered the night leading the National League with a 1.77 ERA, Gonzalez came out on top. The Nats’ lefty bumped his record to 7-1 with his fifth straight victory while Beachy allowed three runs (one earned) in five frames to suffer his second straight defeat. Atlanta has now lost seven in a row.

Gonzalez’s night began slowly, as he allowed one run in a 28-pitch first inning. But Gonzalez settled down, retiring 20 of his last 22 batters to finish with two earned runs on just one hit and three walks in seven innings. He matched his season high with 10 strikeouts.

Gonzalez reclaimed the team strikeouts lead from Stephen Strasburg and now has 79 in his first 61 2-3 innings with Washington.

Craig Stammen and Sean Burnett combined for two scoreless innings in relief to cap the win. In all, Washington held the Braves to three hits.

That Nats don’t get to sit on this one for long, as they have about as short of a turn-around as you’ll find. They’re right back at it for a Memorial Day matinee in Miami, where they face the Marlins at 1:10 p.m. Monday.

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