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Braves bullpen in lock-down mode

WASHINGTON — The Braves reduced their majors-leading overall ERA to 1.82 with Sunday’s shutout, and Atlanta’s relievers shaved theirs to 1.30, also the best in either league.

The Braves bullpen hasn’t allowed any of its 14 inherited runners to score this season, the only team in the majors that can make that claim. Two of those came Sunday, when starter Paul Maholm left with two runners on base in the eighth inning.

Rookie left-hander Luis Avilan walked Bryce Harper to loaded the bases before getting an inning-ending groundout, and Cory Gearrin pitched perfect ninth to complete the four-hit shutout.

“I was sweating a little bit today,” Maholm said, smiling. “But no, whenever those guys come in, it’s all the confidence in the world with whoever is out there. Every one of them that’s out there has great stuff.”

Manager Fredi Gonzalez knocked on the wooden desk in the visiting manager’s office at Nationals Park when someone mentioned the inherited-runners stat to him Sunday.

“You know I don’t like talking about that because next week it’ll be something different,” he said. “But we’ve got guys down there you can match up with, with (Eric) O’Flaherty and Avilan from the left side, and (Jordan) Walden can get lefties out. (Craig) Kimbrel at the back end, Gearrin with the righties…. It’s a nice bullpen.”

The relievers’ .188 opponents’ batting average was third-best in the majors before Sunday.

“Our bullpen’s been good the last two, three, four years,” said starter Kris Medlen, who moved from the bullpen to the rotation last summer. “It makes Fredi’s job easier, I know that. If there’s any sign of struggle with the starters, just put in the bullpen. Obviously you don’t think that way as a starter, but knowing the guys we’ve got back there, it’s pretty comforting.”

Pounding Gio: The Braves pounded out seven hits and seven runs in five innings Sunday against Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez (1-1), who hadn’t allowed seven runs in a start since September 2010. He gave up just six hits and one run in 11 innings of his two previous starts this season.

B.J. Upton set the tone by lining a double to left field on the first pitch of the game.

“It’s important to get out to a fast start, especially against those guys,” said Upton, who faced Gonzalez when both were in the American League, and was 1-for-11 against him before Sunday. “They’re a very good ballclub, and the goal is to pretty much not let Gio get settled in. If he can get settled in, he can be pretty darn good.”

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