Nationals earn rare sweep, edge struggling Reds

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Another big inning decided the game. The two young guys in the middle of the infield again supplied infectious energy -- not to mention solid defense. The newly anointed closer finally got his first save.

The recent nine-game losing streak isn't forgotten, but it sure is a more distant memory for the Washington Nationals following Sunday's 4-2 victory that completed a three-game sweep of the stumbling Cincinnati Reds.

"Psychologically, it has to be very good because we just got swept three series," manager Manny Acta said. "If we had just won this series it would have been great, but getting the sweep is a lot better because it puts some space between the days that you had that losing streak."

Rookie Collin Balester (2-3) allowed one run in 5 1/3 innings and Lastings Milledge hit his ninth home run for the Nationals, who led 4-0 after the first inning and outscored the Reds 19-10 over three games.

Not counting a win in a one-game series with Atlanta on opening day, the Nationals now have two sweeps -- both against fellow last-place teams. They took three in a row in Seattle during an interleague series in June.

Second baseman Emilio Bonifacio, who along with newly acquired shortstop Alberto Gonzalez helped rejuvenate the clubhouse during the series, went 2-for-4. Bonifacio is 5-for-13 since the Nationals promoted him on Friday, and he and Gonzalez are using their speed to shut down the middle of the diamond.

"Every since we got these guys, it's made an impression," said Balester, who got his first win since his major league debut on July 1. "The speed that we got, any ball up the middle's not going to go through anymore. We're going to give some teams some pressure from now on."

Added Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker: "With that shortstop and second baseman, they're a different club -- much different club than we saw last time. They have lots more energy, more life, more creativity."

Then there's Joel Hanrahan, who was given the closer's job after Jon Rauch was traded on July 22. He surrendered a ninth-inning homer to Corey Patterson but finished for his first save on any professional level -- and the first for any Nationals reliever since July 11.

"I've been waiting on the opportunity," Hanrahan said. "I finished it up the way I wanted to -- with a strikeout. That's how I envisioned it. I didn't picture the home run in there, but that's all right."

The Reds lost for the eighth time in nine games and fell to a season-worst 10 games under .500, having failed to gain any noticeable edge from a 20-minute players-only meeting prior to batting practice. Cincinnati committed three errors and failed to hold a four-run lead in Saturday night's 10-6 loss, and another error by left fielder Adam Dunn led to an unearned run in Washington's big first inning Sunday.

"It's very frustrating because we're making stupid mistakes," Dunn said. "We're beating ourselves. We're obviously not getting hits. They're making every single play in the field -- and we're making none."

Reds starter Johnny Cueto (7-11) struck out the first two batters he faced, but the next five reached base. Milledge hit a solo homer, and Pete Orr, who had his first RBIs in more than a year in Saturday night's seventh-inning rally, came through again by driving in a run with a single. Dunn misplayed Orr's hit, allowing another run to score on an error. Wil Nieves followed with a bloop RBI single.

"I'm very happy with the way we played this series because we played clean baseball," Acta said. "We wanted to see guys catching the ball and guys going all out and putting everything into it."

Game notes
The Reds have a losing record in 21 of their last 24 road trips. ... The Nationals had a very thin bench: Elijah Dukes (leg), Ryan Zimmerman (hand) and Cristian Guzman (thumb) were unavailable. ... Washington INF Aaron Boone, on the disabled list with a strained left calf, will travel to Florida to continue his rehabilitation with no timetable for his return. ... Reds OF Jerry Hairston Jr. missed his second straight game with a sore right hamstring. ... Cincinnati RHP Aaron Harang (sore right elbow) will pitch in a rehab assignment on Monday for Triple-A Louisville and probably will need a second rehab start before being activated. ... Reds RHP Jared Burton, on the 15-day DL with a right shoulder injury, threw 20 pitches in a bullpen session in Cincinnati on Saturday and will throw again on Monday.