Jimenez, Fick show unexpected power as Nationals beat Braves 7-4

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WASHINGTON (AP)—D’Angelo Jimenez was hitting .176. Robert Fick was batting .212. They had combined for exactly one home run and 15 RBIs this season. Both readily admit they haven’t pulled their weight.

But Saturday night at RFK Stadium, Jimenez went 3-for-3 with his first homer of the year in a rare start in place of Felipe Lopez. Fick added a pinch-hit, three-run shot when he entered the game after Dmitri Young took a ground ball to the side of the head.

Their five RBIs were enough for the Washington Nationals to beat the Atlanta Braves, 7-4.

“To be honest with you, I haven’t been coming through for the team all year,” said Fick, who fouled off six pitches before golfing one over the right-field fence in the third inning to give the Nationals the lead for good. “And the fact that I could do that for the team, for me, was priceless.”

Jason Bergmann (5-5) pitched 6 2-3 innings to win his third straight start as the Nationals put another dent into the Braves’ fading playoff hopes. Lance Cormier (2-6) had his shortest start of the year, keeping Atlanta 8 1/2 games behind the NL East-leading New York Mets and 5 1/2 behind San Diego in the wild-card race.

“Our backs have been against the wall for a while now, so we’ll try to get them tomorrow,” Atlanta first baseman Mark Teixeira said. “We’re going to stay optimistic. We’re going to try to win every game. We go out there and win tomorrow, and win the next game, and get a roll, anything can happen. No one in here is giving up.”

Game 2 of the final homestand at RFK yielded four home runs, not a lot by modern-day standards but a season high at a ballpark that has averaged about 1 1/2 per game this season and has been one of the stingiest for long balls since baseball returned to the nation’s capital in 2005. It’s one reason why the Nationals can’t wait to move into their cozier new stadium next season—they even got a taste of the new place when several players held batting practice there on the under-construction dirt field early Saturday afternoon.

Jimenez’s unexpected show of power came in the bottom of the first when he hit his first home run since April 16, 2006—a span of 125 at-bats. His two-run shot drove in Nook Logan, who had reached on an error by second baseman Kelly Johnson.

Jimenez was playing because slumping infielder Lopez was out of the starting lineup following a 45-minute pregame pep-talk meeting with manager Manny Acta. Jimenez, who has struggled in his role primarily as a pinch hitter this season, raised his average 32 points to .208.

“It’s the first time that I’m in the role that I’m in right now,” Jimenez said. “And there’s some things you have to learn.”

Chipper Jones hit his 26th homer, a three-run shot in the third inning, to give the Braves a 3-2 lead, but Fick chased Cormier in the bottom of the inning with his second homer of the year and only the third home run in 217 pinch-hit appearances for the Nationals this season.

“The last thing on my mind was hitting a fly ball to right field. I was trying to hit a fly ball to left field,” Fick said. “Good things happens when you keep your swing short and see the ball. I’m not going to lie to you—it was a pretty lucky for me to come through like that for the ballclub.”

Cormier failed to retire a hitter in the third inning. He allowed three hits, five runs—four earned—and walked four.

“It was definitely a battle the whole time,” Cormier said. “I was rushing a lot and leaving everything behind, which made everything I threw fly and not work like it had been working.”

Corky Miller got a run back for the Braves with his first major league homer since May 26, 2002, a drive beyond the left-field wall in the fourth inning. The Nationals added two runs in the eighth.

Bergmann allowed eight hits and four runs before Washington’s bullpen took over with another shutout performance. Arnie Munoz, Jon Rauch and Cordero finished the job, although Cordero—who always seems to struggle against the Braves—needed Jones to hit into a double play with the bases loaded to record his 34th save.

“I know he has a little bit of a rough time against them,” Acta said. “But we can’t be switching closers depending on the series.”

Notes

Young was struck on the side of the head by a bad-hop ground ball in the third inning. He remained in the game but was removed for Fick in the bottom of the inning. The Nationals said Young had a stiff neck and a slight headache and would be listed as day-to-day. … Atlanta reliever Buddy Carlyle hyperextended his right elbow while swinging the bat in the fourth inning. He was removed from the game after throwing his warmup pitches when he came out for the fifth. … Atlanta SS Edgar Renteria took over the lead for the NL batting title, going 3-for-4 to increase his average to .337. … Miller’s last home run came for Cincinnati against Atlanta, with Greg Maddux on the mound.

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