Livan Hernandez delivers in the first inning against the Braves.  (Photo by Ian Koski/Nats Daily News)

WASHINGTON -- It took veteran hurler Livan Hernandez 41 pitches to get through the first innning.  When the frame finally came to a close, he was a run down and it tooked like this might be the night things finally caught up with him.

But there he was, in the top of the sixth, getting Omar Infante to hit a tapper back to the mound for the first out of the inning.  On the next batter, when his 123rd pitch settled into catcher Ivan Rodriguez' mitt for ball four against pinch-hitter Brooks Conrad, Manager Jim Riggleman turned things over to his bullpen.

Four Nationals relievers did their jobs (for the most part), with Matt Capps recording his 11th save in 11 tries, and the Nats secured a 6-3 win in the first game of a three-game series with the Atlanta Braves before 17,089 at Nationals Park.

Hernandez defied Father Time once again, allowing a total of 10 base runners, but only two crossed the plate.  He struck out just one, and allowed rookie Jason Heyward's mammoth home run--his eighth of the season--to the utility area in straight center field. 

But when he needed to, he got the Braves hitters to chase a variety of pitches on the corners of the plate and kept his team in a close game until the middle innings when the Nats bats could catch up.

Hernandez finished the night with the win, raising his record to 4-1, and kept his ERA under one run, at a cool 0.99.

Riggleman praised his starter's perserverance in the 100-plus pitch effort, "He barely broke a sweat in that, whatever it was, 200 pitches he threw."

In the first, Hernandez gave up a lead-off double to Nate McLouth, then a liner from Martin Prado that right fielder Roger Bernadina flat dropped, leading to the unearend run.

"He was using up a lot of pitches, but Livo pitches like that.  He sees how he wants to apporoach a hitter, naybe someone he wants to pitch around and go get the next guy," Riggleman said  "He tries to find out what's working--in and out...he was just missing a little bit tonight with his pitch count going up.  We made things tough for him in the first inning .  He rebounded though."

The big Cuban was backed by three home runs, one each by Adam Dunn (5), Josh Willingham (4) and Ian Desmond, who went 2-for-4 with two RBIs.

But the story was Hernandez and the bullpen, once again.

After Hernandez left, he turned things over to Sean Burnett, who went an inning and struck out two, allowing a single hit.  Tyler Clippard went an inning and two-thirds of one-hit ball with two strikeouts. 

After a minor blip with Miguel Batista (one run on a walk, wild pitch and a single by Brian McCann), Capps came in and shut things down, firing 94 MPH fastballs to Troy Glaus until he grounded into a 5-4-3 double play, cleaning up Batista's mess and sending the fans home happy.

The win raises the Nats record to 14-12, keeping them one game back in the National League East behind the Philadelphia Phillies.

NATS NOTES:  It was revealed before the game that John Lannan would miss his next start, scheduled for Friday against Florida, with inflammation in his pitching elbow.  The MRI was "clean" according to GM Mike Rizzo, and Lannan hopes that with rest he'll be able to resume a throwing program after the missed start.

The Nats high-definition scoreboard and ribbon boards were out for much of the second half of the game tonight. 

Desmond's throwing error in the fifth ended his streak of 18 games without an error.  He was playing in an exaggerated shift, had to come in for a slow grounder, and then overthrew Dunn at first base.

The Nationals promoted No. 1 overall draft pick Stephen Strasburg to Triple-A Syracuse. He went 3-1 with a 1.64 ERA in five starts with Double-A Harrisburg.  He is scheduled to make his first start Friday against Gwinnett, Atlanta's Triple-A affiliate.