ATLANTA — Standing on third base Tuesday night, Livan Hernandez was the picture of calm. Two innings before, he’d thrown the 50,000th pitch of his career and he joked now with Braves third baseman Chipper Jones that he almost didn’t make it to second base moments earlier. His slow trot, when he saw he’d hit an automatic double into the left field corner, got him there in what he estimated to be 18 lengthy seconds.
Then he watched as Ryan Zimmerman hit an offering from Jair Jurrjens so hard it took less than five seconds to go from bat to seat in center field.
“Tag up,” Nationals third base coach Bo Porter told Hernandez as Zimmerman’s ball took flight.
“No,” Hernandez said, looking back at Porter as it exited the field. “I’m going to jog.”
“I’m a pitcher,” Hernandez said after the game about their talk. “I know when a ball is a home run.”
To the rest of the major leagues, Jair Jurrjens is a nearly impenetrable force. His 13 wins and 2.18 ERA this season against any team other than the Washington Nationals would seem to suggest as much. But against Washington? He’s 0-2 with a 9.56 ERA. In 16 innings of work, he’s allowed 17 earned runs and five homers.
Six of those earned runs - and three of those homers - happened on a warm, breezy Tuesday night at Turner Field when the Nationals bombed their way to a 9-2 victory. Riding seven strong innings from Hernandez, including a second-inning ground out that featured his 50,000th career pitch, and home runs from their No.’s 3, 4, 5 and 6 hitters, the Nationals rout of the Braves ended a losing streak that reached six late Sunday evening in Cincinnati.
“My kind of game, there,” Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. “That’s what I’m talking about. I love games like that. I live for games like that.”
Johnson, a self-proclaimed offensive manager, savored his front-row seat Tuesday night. While a modest crowd of 16,674 spread out in the seats at cavernous Turner Field, the Nationals made sure no section went untended.
Michael Morse, who finished 3-for-5 with RBI and a triple shy of the cycle, kicked things off with his 23rd of the season - a ball hit so flush it traveled to the second section of seats in left field. Zimmerman was next, taking a 2-1 Nationals lead in the fifth inning and turning it into the blowout it would become with his three-run shot to right center.
Danny Espinosa followed suit one inning later, leading off the sixth inning with his third home run since the All-Star break, after hitting 16 before it. Laynce Nix would hit his career-high 16th, this one of the two-run variety, to deep left field in the seventh.
It was a power surge not seen around these parts since mid-June when they put up four on back-to-back nights against the St. Louis Cardinals - 10 days before Johnson agreed to come aboard as Nationals manager - and three of the four, along with six of the nine runs, came off of Jurrjens.
“It looks like I’m throwing batting practice against them all the time,” Jurrjens told reporters after the game.
“I don’t really know what it is,” Nix said. “When we’ve faced him sometimes he’s left some breaking pitches and off speed pitches up in the zone. We’ve hammered them. He’s been really effective (otherwise) and knowing that he’s a great pitcher going into the game, we’re on our toes. We know we have to be on top of our game, too.”
In all, the Nationals racked up 12 hits, eight of them off Jurrjens, went 4-for-9 with runners in scoring position and left just four men on base all night. It was a marked departure from the team that went 2-for-47 over the first five games of their losing streak last week.
“It’s nice,” Nix said, “Not to have a one-run game.”