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Braves won't let blown save halt momentum

Snitker: 'I've got no problem with Jim Johnson. He's saved our rear so much.'
MLB.com @mlbbowman

WASHINGTON -- Blown saves never come at a good time. But Jim Johnson coughed up a lead at a particularly inopportune moment on Friday.

Just when it looked like the Braves might actually make the National League East race somewhat intriguing, Johnson blew a three-run, ninth-inning lead and gave the Nationals a chance to claim a 5-4, 10-inning win and exit Nationals Park with a 9 1/2-game division lead.

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WASHINGTON -- Blown saves never come at a good time. But Jim Johnson coughed up a lead at a particularly inopportune moment on Friday.

Just when it looked like the Braves might actually make the National League East race somewhat intriguing, Johnson blew a three-run, ninth-inning lead and gave the Nationals a chance to claim a 5-4, 10-inning win and exit Nationals Park with a 9 1/2-game division lead.

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"These things happen," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "It's happening all over baseball. It's just tough because we're fighting to get to .500 and chase [the Nationals]. But it's a pretty good ballclub over there."

As they sit three games under .500 in the third year of a rebuild, the Braves still stand as longshots to reach the postseason. Optimism has blossomed as they've won 12 of their past 19 games and welcomed Freddie Freeman back from a seven-week disabled list stint this week. But their slim margin of error does not allow for nights like this, when Johnson took his seventh blown save of the season and fifth within his past 15 opportunities.

Video: ATL@WSH: Snitker on Dickey's start and late loss

"Trust me, I'd like to be a lot more consistent," Johnson said. "I'll just kind of go back, get some sleep and look at it tomorrow with fresh eyes and unbiased. I'll make the changes and adjustments I need to make. I've had bad stretches before and been in funks before. It's not like I'm not healthy."

After Freeman homered off Nationals starter Max Scherzer in the seventh and added a two-run single in the eighth, the Braves handed the three-run advantage to Johnson, who surrendered three hits, including RBI singles to Daniel Murphy and Anthony Rendon, before recording his first out. The veteran reliever then gave up a game-tying sacrifice fly to his former Orioles catcher Matt Wieters, who seemed to get a fortunate call on a check swing that led Snitker to be ejected by third-base umpire Mike Everitt.

"I thought it was a swing," Snitker said. "He didn't see it that way. I got a little too excited, I guess."

Video: ATL@WSH: Wieters ties the game with a sac fly

Maybe the outcome would have been different had Everitt ruled Wieters swung at the 1-1 curveball. But Johnson hasn't necessarily earned the benefit of the doubt of late, as he has posted a 5.59 ERA while allowing at least one run in seven of his past 19 appearances. This is certainly not what the Braves envisioned when they signed him to a two-year, $10 million deal based on a solid showing over the final four months of last season.

"He's been real dependable," Snitker said. "The guy is a horse. He takes the ball all of the time. I've got no problem with Jim Johnson. He's saved our rear so much. This was just one of those games right now. He's saved a lot of games, won a lot of games and kept us in a lot of games."

With Arodys Vizcaino on the disabled list through the All-Star break and the blossoming Jose Ramirez still issuing too many walks to be given the closer's role, Snitker has no other choice but to stick with Johnson and hope he turns things around like he did last year, when he produced a 2.14 ERA over 34 second-half appearances.

"As much as we want every guy to be perfect in every situation, it's just not going to happen," Freeman said. "So I don't know if he'll be back out there tomorrow because he threw a lot of pitches. But Sunday, if we're in that situation, we want him back out there."

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.

Atlanta Braves, Jim Johnson