The Washington Times - August 12, 2009, 10:24PM

Through 6 1/2  innings, the Nationals were where they wanted to be on Wednesday night. Craig Stammen had a good outing going for the first time in almost a month, they rallied to tie the game at two against Derek Lowe and their bullpen had been strong enough lately to weather a tight game.

Uh, scratch that last part — at least for one night.


Washington’s relievers gave up four runs in the seventh and eighth innings — first by allowing two homers, then by walking in two runs — as a tight game turned into a 6-2 loss to the Braves.

The defeat gives Atlanta a sweep of the quick two-game series, and dropped the Nationals to 40-74 on the year.

“I let a one-run lead slip away, and it turned into a joke,” said Sean Burnett, who gave up three runs in the eighth inning. “With this offense, one swing of the bat can change it. But when you give up that many runs in one inning, it kind of takes the wind out of our sails.”

Stammen, except for two homers he gave up to Garret Anderson and Adam LaRoche, was sharp. He threw just 79 pitches in six innings, retiring 14 of his last 16 before being lifted for pinch-hitter Willie Harris. As interim manager Jim Riggleman pointed out, a few of the outs early in that stretch were hard shots saved by the Nationals’ much-improved defense, but Stammen settled down in the middle innings of the game.

“It sounds kind of funny, but I just said, ‘The heck with it,’ and started throwing it as hard as I could,” Stammen said. “(Before,) I think I was getting in the mode where I was just trying to place the ball in certain spots.”

The Nationals will try to get back on track in Cincinnati, where they start a four-game series tomorrow with Collin Balester opposing Bronson Arroyo. First pitch is at 7:10 p.m. Talk to you tomorrow.