ATLANTA – Little-used Diory Hernandez sparked Atlanta with a pinch-hit homer, All-Star Martin Prado returned from the disabled list with three hits and Mike Minor claimed his first big league win, 10-2 over the Washington Nationals on Tuesday night.
Coming off their majors-best 20th victory on the final swing, the first-place Braves didn't need any dramatics beginning a series against the lowly Nationals.
Still, in keeping with the theme of a surprising season, some unlikely players contributed to Atlanta's sixth win in seven games. Matt Diaz, making a rare appearance in the cleanup spot, had a two-run double that put the Braves ahead for good.
Atlanta remained 2½ games ahead of Philadelphia in the NL East. The Phillies defeated San Francisco 9-3.
Even with the Braves contending for their first playoff appearance since 2005 and pulling out one thrilling win after another, just 16,911 turned out at Turner Field — by the far the smallest home crowd of the season.
Minor (1-0), Atlanta's top draft pick last year, pitched well in his second career start but was trailing when he left, having surrendered two runs to the Nationals in the sixth.
Enter Hernandez, who batted for the rookie left-hander leading off the bottom half of the inning. Hernandez made his first hit in the majors this season a big one, homering into the left-field seats against Scott Olsen (3-5), who gave up three runs and three hits in five innings.
Hernandez's drive sparked the Braves' bats. Omar Infante tripled to the gap right-center and Jason Heyward walked, ending Olsen's night.
Joel Peralta didn't fare much better, though. Prado, who had been on the DL since breaking his right pinky on a slide July 30, doubled into the right-field corner to bring home the tying run. Diaz, hitting cleanup even with a .232 average and just five homers, followed with another double into the left-field corner to bring home both runners.
The Braves blew it open with four more runs in the seventh, taking advantage of two Washington errors and a botched grounder that was charitably scored a hit. Prado had an RBI single and Melky Cabrera blooped a two-run double to short left field.
Olsen and Minor were in a scoreless duel until the Nationals put together a pair of clutch hits in the sixth.
After Ian Desmond led off with a single, Minor struck out Ryan Zimmerman and got Adam Dunn on a grounder to first. But Wil Nieves lined a double just inside the third-base bag to put the Nationals ahead, and Mike Morse extended the lead with another two-out hit, this one a double to the gap in left-center.
Nieves was only in the game because Ivan Rodriguez never got a chance to put on his catching gear.
Pudge was ejected in the top of the first, apparently for slamming his bat over a disputed strikeout that left two runners stranded.
NOTES: The Braves signed 37 of their 51 picks in the amateur draft before Monday's midnight deadline, including the top 17. ... Struggling RHP Jason Marquis will make his next start Friday at Philadelphia, despite an 0-5 record and 14.33 ERA. Stephen Strasburg will pitch Saturday against the Phillies. ... Hernandez's homer was the second of his big-league career, the first coming last season. He was recalled from Triple-A Gwinnett on Aug. 2 but had gotten only two at-bats before connecting. ... Diaz was batting cleanup for the sixth time this season. ... The Braves batted around in both the sixth and the seventh innings.