Big game icing on cake for Freeman's birthday

Big game icing on cake for Freeman's birthday

WASHINGTON -- It would be difficult to dream up a better birthday than the one Freddie Freeman had against the Nationals on Tuesday.

Going against his favorite foe, the Braves' first baseman went 3-for-5, including a mammoth three-run home run to center field, in Tuesday's 8-0 win at Nationals Park.

"I'll tell him it's [his birthday] tomorrow, too," manager Brian Snitker joked afterward.

Freeman on big game on birthday

Freeman's special day added to his seemingly infinite list of standout performances against Washington. Entering the game, the now 28-year-old was a career .332/.401/.537 hitter with 15 home runs and 66 RBIs against the Nats. This season, he's 14-for-32 with four home runs and 13 RBIs against them.

"Boy, he continues to hit us hard," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said.

Freeman's stat line highlighted how the Braves have been able to do what many lineups this year haven't: Get to Gio Gonzalez. The Nats lefty has fared well against National League East opponents, but the one that's given him trouble is Atlanta.

The Braves scored five runs off Gonzalez in five innings, making him 0-2 in three starts against them, with a 6.48 ERA over 16 2/3 innings.

"He's having a really, really good year and throwing really well, and we just had some good at-bats off of him," Snitker said of Gonzalez. "[We] just grinded though some at-bats and got his pitch count going a little bit. And Freddie had the big hit."

Added Freeman: "Gio's probably been one of the best pitchers in the game this year, so it was nice to be able to get to him. We did make him throw a lot of pitches in the first inning, and we were able to capitalize when we got guys on, and I think that's the name of the game."

Freeman's key blow in the third inning was most encouraging, because it showed that his power stroke is alive and well. Per Statcast™, the blast went 443 feet to center -- his longest of the season.

Why is that important? Because Freeman hasn't left the yard at the same rate he did before returning from his left wrist fracture in July. From the beginning of the season until he went to the disabled list in May, he launched 14 home runs with a .748 slugging percentage in 165 plate appearances. But since Aug. 1, he's slugging .567 with seven homers in 174 plate appearances.

But even if those numbers aren't entirely tied to his injury, Freeman's birthday performance showed he's still good enough to hurt the Nats like he always has -- a fitting gift to himself.

"Ultimately getting a win is more important than getting hits," Freeman said smiling. "But ultimately it was a good birthday today."

Daniel Shiferaw is a contributor to MLB.com based in Washington who covered the Braves on Tuesday. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.