By GEORGE HENRY, Associated Press
ATLANTA (AP) — Charlie Culberson can’t really explain how he keeps homering as a pinch-hitter.
He’s a career utility man with just eight career homers, but there’s power hidden somewhere in his bat.
“I don’t really know what to say — right place, right time,” he said. “Things just kind of work out. It doesn’t get old. It’s a lot of fun.”
Culberson hit a game-ending, two-run homer to lift the Atlanta Braves to a 4-2 win over the Washington Nationals on Sunday.
It was the second time this week that Culberson delivered a pinch-hit homer in the ninth inning, marking Atlanta’s ninth victory in its last at-bat. The NL East-leading Braves have scored 109 runs in the seventh inning or later, most in the league.
Tanner Roark (2-6) pitched the ninth in his first relief appearance this season, giving up Dansby Swanson’s double and Culberson’s second long ball.
Culberson, who shares left field with Preston Tucker while Ronald Acuna Jr. recovers from injuries, has four game-ending homers and four pinch-hit homers. He went deep against Seth Lugo to beat the New York Mets last Monday.
After watching Swanson beat a tag attempt, Culberson simply wanted to make contact against Roark.
“I don’t hit many home runs, but that was just a good swing,” Culberson said. “I felt like he made a decent pitch on me. I kind of had the feeling it was going out.”
Braves closer Arodys Vizcaino (2-2) allowed his first two batters to reach in the ninth, but Mark Reynolds lined out before Vizcaino struck out Brian Goodwin and Michael Taylor.
Swanson hit his seventh homer to tie it at 2-all in the seventh off Shawn Kelley.
“It’s a family in here,” Swanson said as he glanced around the clubhouse. “It’s special to be a part of.”
The Nationals went up 2-1 in the third when Wilmer Difo reached on Swanson’s throwing error and Trea Turner went deep for the seventh time.
Turner’s homer was the 89th allowed by Braves starter Anibal Sanchez since the start of 2015, but he gave up only two other baserunners — a double and a walk to Taylor. Sanchez struck out five in seven innings.
First baseman Reynolds’ throwing error in the first caused starter Jeremy Hellickson to leave the game after one out. Hellickson, who dropped the ball as he covered the bag on Ozzie Albies’ grounder, immediately clutched the back top of his leg and walked slowly off the field with an apparent right hamstring strain.
Jefry Rodriguez, recalled from the minors earlier in the day with Tim Collins on the paternity list, retired Freddie Freeman on one pitch before Nick Markakis’ two-out single made it 1-0. He settled down to finish his major league debut with three strikeouts and four hits and two walks allowed in 4 2/3 innings.
Washington’s lone win in the four-game series came Saturday night when ace Max Scherzer singled as a pinch-hitter in the 14th inning and scored the tiebreaking run.
“Atlanta’s not going to go away,” manager Dave Martinez said. “They’re really good, so we’ve just got to continue playing baseball.”
Nationals: 2B Daniel Murphy, sidelined all season following micro-fracture surgery in October, has made four errors in six rehab games with Double-A Harrisburg. He and OF Adam Eaton will be reevaluated Monday by the team medical staff. Eaton could return in a few days, but Murphy’s status is less certain. Martinez confirmed that Murphy, who’s hitting .208 with a homer and six RBIs in six games, has labored when he runs and moves laterally. … 1B Matt Adams had negative X-rays after fouling a ball off his right foot and leaving Saturday’s game in the middle of the fourth. … Turner stayed in the game after fouling a ball off his foot in the sixth.
Braves: LHP Luiz Gohara was reinstated from the restricted list after spending over a week with his ill mother in Brazil. Gohara, whose father died during the offseason, will pitch in relief.
Freeman doubled off the top of the wall in the third and is hitting .375 during a 16-game hitting streak, the NL’s longest this season.
Nationals: RHP Max Scherzer (9-1, 1.92 ERA) starts Tuesday against Tampa Bay. The ace leads the majors in wins and strikeouts with 120. He’s coming off an eight-inning performance in which he struck out 12 in eight scoreless innings at Baltimore.
Braves: RHP Julio Teheran (4-3, 4.03 ERA) will make his ninth career start against the Padres. He’s 1-1 with a 3.60 ERA in three outings at San Diego. Teheran went 3-2 with a 3.65 ERA in five starts last month.
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