WASHINGTON -- There was some skepticism surrounding the Braves after they took advantage of opening this season with three-game sets against the Phillies, Cubs and Marlins. But most of the lingering doubts about their tremendous potential have been erased over the past two days.
Still feeding off the momentum of Friday night's extra-inning comeback victory, the Braves returned to Nationals Park on Saturday afternoon and extended their winning streak to eight games with a 3-1 win over the Nationals.
"Close games like today, well-pitched games for both sides, I think there are the little things you need to do to win the game," Braves veteran pitcher Tim Hudson said. "They made one mistake defensively that cost them the game. We were pretty solid all day."
Hudson allowed one run over seven strong innings, and Evan Gattis introduced his powerful compact swing to Stephen Strasburg with a decisive two-run home run in the third inning. But the turning point in this game came courtesy of Nationals third baseman's Ryan Zimmerman's second costly throwing error in less than 24 hours.
Zimmerman's errant throw to first base on Justin Upton's two-out grounder extended the third inning long enough for Gattis to turn on Strasburg's high 96-mph fastball and send it over the visitors' bullpen in left-center field. The two-run shot added to the wonder surrounding the 26-year-old rookie catcher, who has four home runs through the first 30 at-bats of his Major League career.
"Really more than anything, I was just trying to put the ball in play," Gattis said. "I just felt like I didn't need to be that long [with my swing]. I was just trying to barrel the ball with a runner on second. We had a good runner on second with Justin. I was just trying to put the ball in play and score a run. "
While the Nationals have made a number of mistakes since taking a 4-0 lead into Friday's seventh inning, the Braves have proven they can do the little things to win games. Jason Heyward's desire to beat out a potential double-play grounder in Saturday's ninth inning provided an insurance run for closer Craig Kimbrel, who has thrown two perfect innings to close out both of the first two games of this series.
Though Heyward is hitting just .086 (3-for-35), he has found ways to help the Braves begin the season with wins in 10 of their first 11 games. He drew two walks that extended late-inning rallies in Friday night's win, and ended Hudson's seven-inning effort by making a diving grab of Adam LaRoche's long fly ball to deep right field.
"The batting average is not good," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "But Jason beat you today defensively. He beat you on the basepaths and he beat you just plain out-hustling. That's a great sign of a winner."
Gattis' home run accounted for the only damage incurred by Strasburg, who surrendered the two unearned runs and five hits over six innings. The Nationals right-hander has gone 3-4 with a 3.59 ERA in eight career starts against the Braves. He has gone 19-8 with a 2.81 ERA in his 40 other career starts.
"He's a kid," Hudson said of the 24-year-old Strasburg. "He's going to make mistakes just like he did today. I knew it definitely wasn't going to be an easy walk in the park. This is the big leagues . You have big league hitters on both sides of the field. You make pitches, you get outs. We made a few more pitches today than they did."
Other than the Gattis home run, Strasburg limited the Braves to four singles, including two recorded by Hudson. The veteran pitcher's third-inning single provided him hits in three consecutive at-bats dating back to his previous start. He now has 10 career multi-hit games.
"I'm not supposed to hit," Hudson said with a smile. "So it's always exciting to throw a couple of knocks out there, especially a guy throwing that hard. I turned it around. What can I say?"
Hudson scattered four hits and retired the final seven batters he faced. He benefited from the double plays that were recorded after he surrendered leadoff singles in both of the first two innings. The most costly for the Nationals occurred courtesy of Denard Span's first-inning baserunning blunder.
Span took off for third base after Jayson Werth hit a line drive that B.J. Upton easily caught in center field before throwing to second base to complete the double play.
"If you don't get Huddy early, he settles in pretty well," Zimmerman said. "He's done that his whole career. It was a good game, and unfortunately we made more mistakes than they did, and they ended up winning."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.