WASHINGTON – Rick Ankiel has been on a tear since coming off the disabled list a month ago. Against the Atlanta Braves on Monday night he gave his best performance yet with two home runs in a 5-3 win.
Ankiel led off the bottom of the first with a homer to center field, and his homer in the fifth inning landed deep in the second deck in left. It was the fifth multihomer game of his career, and the solo shots gave Ankiel five home runs this season.
"Sometimes you say, 'It's not how far, it's how many,' but both of those were pretty far," teammate Jayson Werth said.
Werth is the only other National with a first-inning leadoff homer this season, doing it on June 16 against St. Louis.
Ankiel was hitting .204 with one home run and nine RBIs when he came off the disabled list on July 1 after recovering from a strained rib cage muscle. Since then, he's batting .351 with four homers and 10 RBI.
"One thing, he's getting to play," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. "It's awfully hard to sit, especially if you're capable of being a power hitter like he is."
Atlanta second baseman Dan Uggla homered twice, in the second and ninth innings, giving him 22 this season. Uggla went 3 for 4, extending his career-long hitting streak to 23 games.
The Nationals have been one of the few teams to figure out Atlanta starter Jair Jurrjens (12-4), who allowed five runs and seven hits in five-plus innings and lost for the first time in eight starts. The last time Jurrjens faced the Nationals on July 17, he gave up six runs in five innings.
The two home runs he gave up to Ankiel marked only the second time this season Jurrjens has allowed more than one in a game.
"It seems like we hit him pretty well. I'm not really sure why, but hey, good for us," Ankiel said. "You go up there looking for a pitch to drive, and tonight it worked out."
Washington starter Livan Hernandez (6-10) allowed one run and six hits over six innings and drove in a run as the Nationals won their third straight. Drew Storen pitched the ninth for his 27th save.
In the second inning Atlanta intentionally walked No. 8 hitter Wilson Ramos with two outs and a runner on third to face Hernandez, who slapped an opposite-field single to give the Nationals a 2-1 lead.
Hernandez, who is 7 for 34 with five RBIs this season, laughed when asked what he thought of the other team issuing a walk to put him at the plate.
"I get mad," Hernandez said. "They leave me the hole there, then I go over there and get lucky."
Center fielder Michael Bourn hit leadoff in his first appearance for the Braves after being acquired from Houston on Sunday. He got his first hit with his new team, a single, on the second pitch of the game and finished 1 for 4.
"I'm not trying to do anything out of the normal," Bourn said. "I know it's going to be a bit different for a little while, but as time goes on, I'll get more used to it."
David Ross homered in the seventh for Atlanta, and Freddie Freeman extended his hitting streak to 16 games with a fourth-inning single.
Notes: Johnson said RHP Stephen Strasburg, recovering from Tommy John surgery, will likely have a minor league rehab start next week. Nationals GM Mike Rizzo has said Strasburg may be able to return to the Nationals in September, and Johnson suggested Strasburg may replace RHP Jordan Zimmermann in the rotation. Zimmermann had the same surgery in 2009 and the Nationals have said his innings will be limited this season. ... Washington unconditionally released 1B Matt Stairs before the game. After the game, Washington optioned LHP Atahualpa Severino to Triple-A Syracuse. He was with the Nationals for two games and didn't pitch. Washington is expected to call up RHP Collin Balester from Syracuse on Tuesday. ... Atlanta placed RHP Scott Linebrink on the 15-day DL (lower back strain). ... Jurrjens was the No. 8 batter in Atlanta's lineup, the first time the Braves' starting pitcher was in the lineup outside of the No. 9 spot since Aug. 12, 1941, according to STATS LLC.