ATLANTA — Not even facing R.A. Dickey’s dancing knuckleball could disrupt the grooved swing of Washington’s Ryan Zimmerman as the Nationals completed a three-game series sweep of the Atlanta Braves.
Zimmerman, who had hit a grand slam the night before, connected for a two-run homer off Dickey and the Nationals defeated the Braves 3-2 on Thursday night behind a 10-strikeout effort from Stephen Strasburg.
Zimmerman’s homer to center field came on a 1-0 knuckleball that stayed up after Dickey walked Bryce Harper with two outs in the sixth.
“A knuckleball is going to do what it does, and I have to own that one to Zimmerman,” Dickey said. “It was a bad pitch, but I didn’t make many of them tonight.”
Zimmerman scored the Nationals’ first run after a second-inning double, and he finished the series 7-for-12 with seven RBIs. He is batting .389 with five homers and 13 RBIs.
“No. 1, he’s healthy,” Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. “He’s not missing balls. His concentration is high and he feels good about himself. It’s been a tough last couple years.”
Strasburg (2-0) allowed two runs over seven innings while giving up six hits and walking two. He threw 76 of his 103 pitches for strikes.
“Dickey was really good. So was Strasburg,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said.
Dickey (1-2) allowed three runs on three hits and two walks over seven innings while getting 12 groundouts and striking out three. He was pulled for a pinch hitter after 73 pitches.
“You can go either way,” Snitker said of the move. “If I did it 10 times, it’s probably 50/50 right there.”
Washington’s Shawn Kelley, elevated to closer duties after Blake Treinen struggled, allowed a two-out single to Kurt Suzuki and walked pinch hitter Tyler Flowers before retiring Ender Inciarte on a fly ball to pick up his second save.
Michael Taylor’s sacrifice fly in the second scored Zimmerman to give the Nationals a quick run, but the Braves tied it the bottom of the inning. Dickey got his third RBI of the season on a bases-loaded infield roller.
Strasburg, who used his changeup effectively during the game, was thankful just minimize the damage after starting the inning by giving up two hits and a walk.
“That second inning was huge, squeezing out of there giving up only one run,” he said. “That was the ballgame right there.”
The Braves went ahead in the fourth on Kurt Suzuki’s sacrifice fly after a double by Brandon Phillips, but Zimmerman erased the lead and put the Nationals ahead in the sixth.
The Nationals, who have won 32 of 41 games against the Braves since the start of the 2015 season, turned in three outfield gems, including a sliding catch by Taylor, and a key stop by Anthony Rendon at third base.
“Michael made the play of the game,” Baker said. “If that ball gets by him, that’s a triple. (Adam) Eaton made a heck of a play. Our defense was really good.”
NOTES: Braves LF Matt Kemp, activated after missing 10 games with a hamstring strain, was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. … Washington 2B Daniel Murphy was out of the lineup because of tightness in his right leg. The Nationals hope he will be available when they open a series at the New York Mets on Friday. … Nationals LF Jayson Werth (groin spasm) wasn’t available after leaving Wednesday’s game during an at-bat. … Braves INF Johan Camargo was optioned back to Triple-A Gwinnett to make room for Kemp. … The Braves made a bullpen switch, optioning RHP Luke Jackson to Gwinnett and recalling RHP Aaron Blair. … SS Dansby Swanson, 2-for-25 on the homestand, was out of the Braves’ lineup for the first time this season. … The Braves begin a nine-game road trip at Philadelphia on Friday, with RHP Barolo Colon (1-1, 4.24 ERA) facing RHP Jeremy Hellickson (2-0, 0.82 ERA). … RHP Tanner Roark (2-0, 3.50 ERA) will start for the Nationals at New York against RHP Jacob deGrom (0-0, 1.89 ERA).