John Lannan settled in, looking more and more comfortable the deeper he got into his first major league start of the season.
The Nationals didn't let the left-hander's effort go to waste, rallying for a 5-2 win Saturday night to split a doubleheader with the red-hot Braves.
Roger Bernadina singled home the go-ahead run with two outs in the seventh inning to help the Nats snap a three-game slide, including losses in the first two games of this series.
Lannan (1-0) surrendered four hits, two walks and two runs in the first eight batters he faced but allowed only one more hit in his seven innings, retiring 13 of the last 14 Braves he faced. He struck out three.
Twice the Nats' opening day starter, Lannan made his 2012 debut after being called up from Triple-A Syracuse, where he has toiled all season since being dropped from the rotation for Ross Detwiler.
"He has tough times like everyone else, but he's one heck of a competitor. He showed that tonight," said Nats manager Davey Johnson, who called sending Lannan to the minors the toughest thing he's had to do this year.
Washington needed the lefty to play stopper.
The Braves won the opener of the four-game series in 11 innings Friday after trailing 9-0 -- their biggest comeback since 1987 -- and they took the first game of the doubleheader, 4-0, behind six scoreless innings from Ben Sheets.
Washington pushed its lead for first place in the NL East back to 2 1/2 games over the Braves, who lost for only the third time in their last 13.
Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper left the opener after fouling a ball off his left ankle on a bunt attempt. He didn't start the nightcap but pinch-hit for a single in the eighth inning, stole second base and scored a run.
Randall Delgado threw six innings for the Braves, giving up two runs on six hits and a walk with four strikeouts.
Sandy Leon led off the seventh with a single off Cristhian Martinez (4-2). Mark DeRosa, pinch-hitting for Lannan, bunted Leon over before Bernadina's two-out single through the right side scored him to make it 3-2.
Harper's two-out single sparked a two-run rally in the eighth. Danny Espinosa knocked him in with a single, went to second on the throw, advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored when Paul Janish mishandled DeRosa's ground ball to make it 5-2.
Earlier, Delgado retired the first eight Nationals batters until Lannan singled with two outs in the third.
Lannan was also instrumental in plating Washington's first run in the fifth with a sacrifice bunt that moved Espinosa to third base. Espinosa scored on Delgado's wild pitch and the Nats went on to tie the game at 2-2 after loading the bases with no outs in the sixth.
Bernadina and Ryan Zimmerman stroked back-to-back singles and Delgado hit Michael Morse with a pitch to fill the bags before Ian Desmond knocked in the tying run when he grounded into the second out. Espinosa worked a 2-2 count and fouled off two pitches before Delgado fanned him with a changeup.
Delgado came out for a pinch-hitter to start the seventh, but Lannan remained on the mound, fanning Juan Francisco and Michael Bourn and getting Martin Prado on a ground out in a final 13-pitch inning.
"It was a masterpiece as far as I'm concerned," Johnson said after Lannan threw 98 pitches, including 65 for strikes. "He still had more left in the tank."
Lannan's strong finish came after a shaky start.
Bourn bunted for a single on Lannan's first pitch in the majors since last Sept. 27. Lannan got Prado to ground into a double play, but he walked Jason Heyward and Chipper Jones followed with an RBI double. Jones scored on Freddie Freeman's single to make it 2-0 Braves in the first inning.
Paul Janish doubled to lead off the second inning and Freeman singled with two outs in the third -- the last two hits allowed by Lannan.
The Nationals reinstated outfielder Xavier Nady from the 15-day disabled list and designated him for assignment...The doubleheader was to make up a rainout on June 1...Harper remained in the game to play right in the ninth...Delgado is winless (0-4) in his last six starts.