Ramirez goes eight strong as Braves get first June win

ATLANTA (AP) -- All the Atlanta Braves needed to snap a five-game losing streak was some strong starting pitching, a couple home runs and a strong ninth inning from the bullpen.

"That and the mustache and the handlebar beards," said pitcher Horacio Ramirez, pointing to the new growth on his upper lip, after he led the Braves to a 5-3 win over the Washington Nationals on Tuesday night.

The various new facial hairstyles have sprouted this week as a show of unity to help snap the team's June skid.

Adam LaRoche, sporting a Fu Manchu, and Andruw Jones hit home runs, Ramirez pitched eight strong innings and Ken Ray earned his third save with a perfect ninth inning.

The Braves, winning for only the second time in the first nine games of a 10-game homestand, snapped Washington's five-game winning streak.

"We had to start winning sometime," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "Might as well be today."

The Braves avoided matching the six-game home skid they had Aug. 8-21, 2001, their longest at Turner Field.

LaRoche hit his 10th homer in the third inning and Jones padded the lead with his 15th homer in the eighth.

"We've been saying it for the last couple days: We needed this one," LaRoche said.

"We may start getting some breaks. That's what it takes a lot of times -- a play here, a play there -- to end up winning."

Alfonso Soriano hit his 22nd homer for Washington, a two-run shot in the fifth inning.

"It was a curveball," Ramirez said. "Most people, I don't think, hit the ball out, but he's a special hitter. I wanted it further away but it was still down, about shin high."

Said Soriano: "He made a very good pitch. I had a very good swing and very good contact."

Ramirez (2-1) gave up eight hits and three runs with five strikeouts and one walk, lowering his ERA to 3.24.

The Nationals couldn't build momentum on Soriano's homer. "Ramirez wouldn't let us," Washington manager Frank Robinson said.

Ramirez was making his third start since returning from a strained left hamstring he sustained in his April 5 season debut at Los Angeles.

"He looks a lot different than last year," Cox said of Ramirez. "He's pounding hitters in more and still able to go outside with the sinker."

Washington right-hander Shawn Hill, making his second start of the season, gave up seven hits and four runs, three earned, in six innings. Hill (0-1) walked two batters and had two strikeouts.

"I was really struggling with my offspeed stuff," Hill said of the early innings. "After a few innings, it started to come around. ... I battled through it, but it wasn't a good outing by any means."

The Nationals took a 1-0 lead in the first inning when Royce Clayton, who reached on a single, scored on Ryan Zimmerman's two-out double to right.

The Braves took advantage of an error by Soriano in left field to take a 2-1 lead in the second inning.

After singles by Ryan Langerhans and Brayan Pena and a botched bunt attempt by Ramirez, who instead popped the ball to Hill, Marcus Giles singled to left. The ball bounced under Soriano's glove for an error as Langerhans and Pena scored.

LaRoche's homer pushed the lead to 3-1. Langerhans opened the fourth with a triple and scored on Pena's single for a 4-1 lead.

Washington cut the lead to 4-3 in the fifth inning. Damian Jackson led off with an infield single and scored on Soriano's homer.

Game notes
Zimmerman returned to the starting lineup after missing two games with a sore back. ... Jones has three homers in the homestand. ... Soriano has at least one homer in 10 consecutive series.