Braves beat Nationals 2-1 in series opener

Washington, DC ( - Chris Johnson's sacrifice fly in the eighth inning lifted the Atlanta Braves to a 2-1 win over the Washington Nationals on Friday in the opener of a three-game series between the last two NL East champions.

Jayson Heyward drew a leadoff walk against Tyler Clippard (0-1), went to third on Freddie Freeman's one-out single and scored easily on Johnson's sac fly to right when Jayson Werth's throw was offline to the first-base side.

Braves right-hander David Carpenter struck out the last three batters in the bottom of the eighth after giving up a single to Anthony Rendon and walking Werth, and Craig Kimbrel fanned two in a perfect ninth for his third save.

Atlanta extended its winning streak to three games after taking the last two in a season-opening series in Milwaukee and kept the Nationals from starting 4-0 for the first time in 31 years.

Evan Gattis hit a leadoff home run in the fifth inning for the reigning NL East champions, who were 13-6 against Washington last season.

"Every series is important," said Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez. "We play them six different series ... and it doesn't matter if you play them in April or September, you have to try to win the series."

Braves righty David Hale threw five shutout innings in his third career MLB start and left with a 1-0 lead. He gave up five hits and two walks.

Luis Avilan (1-0) picked up the win after getting the last out of the seventh inning.

Nationals right-hander Jordan Zimmermann took the mound after being scratched from his scheduled start on Thursday because he was sick. He struck out nine in five innings and gave up four hits -- including Gattis' solo blast and a double to Ian Desmond on an overturned inside-the-park home run call.

Zimmermann, who tied for the NL lead with 19 wins last season, threw 58 of his 81 pitches for strikes.

The Nationals, after a three-game sweep of the Mets in New York, was trying to start the season 4-0 for the first time since the Montreal Expos opened the 1983 season by winning four in a row.

Washington's Adam LaRoche was thrown out at home plate in the fourth inning trying to score on Ryan Zimmerman's double off the left field wall when shortstop Andrelton Simmons' relay throw arrived in plenty of time.

"It's good to be aggressive and that's what we're going to do all year," said Zimmerman. "It's good for us. I think we need to put pressure on the other team as long as it's intelligent. You don't want to run into outs."

The Braves then took the lead in the top of the fifth on Gattis' blast into the left field seats.

Desmond's inside-the-park home run leading off the bottom of the inning was called a double upon review.

The ball -- laced inside the left-field line -- ended up stuck under the padding of the outfield wall and Atlanta's Justin Upton waved his arms as Desmond rounded the bases.

Desmond, sent back to second base, was caught in a rundown trying to steal third base and tagged out.

Game Notes

The Braves won despite going 0-for-3 with runners in scoring position to strand six ... The Nationals, who out-hit Atlanta 8-6, went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position.