Braves 6, Nationals 2
On a night when rookie Jarrod Saltalamacchia homered twice, the slumping Jones provided the most welcome hit of all with a three-run shot that carried the Braves to a 6-2 win over the Washington Nationals on Tuesday night.
Buddy Carlyle bounced back from a dismal outing to pitch seven strong innings, but the journeyman's performance took a backseat to Jones' first homer -- heck, his first hit other than a single -- in 2½ weeks.
"He's one of the best players in the game," teammate Brian McCann said. "I know he's been struggling a little bit, but he's starting to put some better swings on the ball. It's only a matter of time before he starts hitting the ball and carrying us. Then, all this will be forgotten."
Jones was mired in a 1-for-31 slump that had knocked his average below .200. In fact, he had gone 53 at-bats without managing even an extra-base hit since his last homer: June 9 off Jason Marquis of the Chicago Cubs.
But with two outs and two runners aboard in the fifth, Jones got hold of a 3-1 pitch from Mike Bacsik (1-5). The hitter's back foot literally came off the ground as he ripped into the pitch, a reminder of the form that produced 92 homers over the last two seasons.
"It was over the plate," said Bacsik, who gave up five runs in six innings -- all on homers. "He got what he was looking for."
Jones leisurely tossed his bat aside and then watched the ball drop into the left-field seats for his 12th homer this season.
After being booed regularly at Turner Field in recent weeks, Jones received a rousing ovation as he circled the bases. True to an almost-forgotten form, he tugged at the bill of his helmet with his left hand as he touched home plate and celebrated with his waiting teammates.
How did Jones feel about his homer? Who knows: He declined to speak with the media and slipped out of the clubhouse, perhaps taking a shot at all those who wrote him off.
Saltalamacchia hit solo shots in the third and fifth, the first multihomer game of the rookie's young career.
"After the first one, I would have been happy going 1-for-4," he said.
Carlyle (2-2) was coming off a dismal outing against the Boston Red Sox, and this one didn't start much better. The Nationals strung together three straight hits in the first, but the last of those got Atlanta out of the inning.
Felipe Lopez attempted to score on Dmitri Young's sharp single to left, only to get thrown out at the home by Matt Diaz. After blocking the plate and tagging out Lopez, catcher McCann spotted Ryan Zimmerman trying to sneak from second to third. He, too, was thrown out to end the inning with a most unusual double play.
Score it 7-2-6.
"That double play really set the tone," Carlyle said. "It gave me confidence. If Matty doesn't make that throw in the first inning, I'm in trouble."
Carlyle settled down after that, giving up just two more hits in his seven-inning stint. The last of those came in the third, a run-scoring double by former Atlanta outfielder Ryan Langerhans.
It was quite a turnaround from Carlyle's last outing, when he lasted just 3 2/3 innings against the power-hitting Red Sox, surrendering seven runs and nine hits in an 11-0 loss. Of course, he was facing a less intimidating offense this time -- the Nationals are the NL's lowest-scoring team.
Carlyle, who has a record of 3-5 in his largely forgettable career, thanked manager Bobby Cox for giving him another start.
"A lot of teams wouldn't have given me a chance after a game like that, so I appreciate the confidence that Bobby gave me the ball again," Carlyle said.
The Braves have won two in a row since a five-game losing streak that included four shutouts.
Even with his homer, Jones is still hitting just .198. ... The Braves sent out a whole new right side of the infield, with Saltalamacchia at first and Yunel Escobar at second. Saltalamacchia, normally a catcher, looked out of place when he kicked a grounder and then tossed high to Carlyle covering the bag for an error. ... Diaz also had an embarrassing misplay, dropping a routine fly to left. ... After the game, the Nationals reinstated first baseman Robert Fick from the bereavement list (he missed six games with the death of his mother) and optioned outfielder Brandon Watson to Triple-A Columbus.