Zimmerman leads Nationals past Braves

WASHINGTON - Slumping Ryan Zimmerman spent some time working with Barry Larkin before the game, and then had a season-high three hits, including a homer and tiebreaking two-run double, to lead the Washington Nationals past the Atlanta Braves 6-3 on Tuesday night.

Zimmerman and Nick Johnson hit consecutive solo shots in the third inning off Tom Glavine, who was coming off his first trip to the disabled list in a 22-season career. Zimmerman hadn't homered since April 2.

Then, in Washington's four-run seventh, Zimmerman hit his double off reliever Blaine Boyer (0-3), who was charged with four runs and got only one out.

Saul Rivera (2-1) got the win by pitching a scoreless seventh. Luis Ayala threw a perfect eighth, although center fielder Lastings Milledge misjudged Brian McCann's fly ball in the eighth and recovered to make a twisting, turning catch while backpedaling.

In the ninth, though, trouble: Chad Cordero - hoping to earn back his job as Washington's closer after a stint on the disabled list with shoulder problems - threw only 13 pitches before motioning to the dugout. A team trainer came out and looked at Cordero, who raised his pitching arm and pointed to below his shoulder. Cordero left the game and was replaced by Jon Rauch, who gave up an RBI single to Kelly Johnson before getting the last two outs for his fifth save.

Zimmerman's strong showing lifted his batting average from .222 to .241 and helped Washington win for the fourth time in five games.

The Braves, whose highlight was Chipper Jones' eighth homer, have lost three straight games.

Before the game, Larkin spent time talking and advising several players. Larkin, a special assistant to general manager Jim Bowden, is brought to town every so often to work with particular players or offer general advice.

This time, Larkin said, he's in the nation's capital for two days 'to offer a different opinion, talk to the guys, see how everything's going.'

'Obviously,' he noted, 'the team's struggling a little bit.'

Only one major league team entered Tuesday with a lower batting average than Washington's .229, and the middle of the lineup has been having particular problems: Zimmerman, Johnson and Austin Kearns all entered the day hitting below .230.

Still, Glavine needed a whopping 21 pitches to get through the first inning, when Jones' fielding error was followed by two singles that loaded the bases with one out. But Glavine got Milledge to ground into a 6-4-3 double play, ending the inning.