By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
It is very late in a long, unproductive season, Washington Nationals Manager Frank Robinson figured, and the starting pitchers have been getting belted on a routine basis.
Time to look ahead, time to see if Beltran Perez had anything to offer beyond his five relief appearances since being summoned from Class AA a couple of weeks ago.
"I'm impressed by him. I'm impressed, I'm impressed," Robinson said following last night's 9-2 Washington victory over the Atlanta Braves, in which the Dominican right-hander yielded a first-inning single to Chipper Jones and nothing else, not even a random walk, in six sterling innings in front of an announced crowd of 20,596 at RFK Stadium.
Following Jones's hit to right field, Perez retired 16 in a row without much nuisance before being lifted for a pinch hitter after throwing 70 pitches. It provided the Nationals with their finest outing by a starter since Ramon Ortiz's near no-hitter against the St. Louis Cardinals two weeks ago.
Perez arrived in Washington on Sept. 2 from Harrisburg, where he went 8-6 with a 3.11 ERA, primarily as a reliever the first two months of the season and mostly as a starter the rest of the way. He had allowed just a run in 5 2/3 innings for the Nationals, but with the season lost and the club in need of finding starting candidates for next year, Robinson turned to the lanky 24-year-old.
Shifting between English and the use of an interpreter, Perez said he "just want to pitch, inning by inning, hitter by hitter, and see how it goes. I want to stay in the game because I didn't have a lot of pitches . I don't know what happened."
What happened was that the Nationals were closely monitoring him because he had not started in more than a month. "I wouldn't let him," Robinson responded to suggestions that Perez could have gone longer.
Although Robinson would not commit to keeping Perez in the rotation for the final 12 days, he gave the impression that his new prospect would start this weekend in New York against the National League East champion Mets.
"On Friday we'll certainly have to let him know what he's doing or what his next assignment will be," Robinson said. "I think y'all know what that might be."
Most impressive to Robinson was that Perez did not issue any walks. A pair of strikeouts ended the fifth and a pair of popouts began the sixth. Facing his final batter of the evening, he got Marcus Giles to ground out to short.
"There are things that impress you about him," Robinson said. "He's very calm out there on the mound, he's a very cool customer, went after the hitters -- strike one, strike two, ball one."
Mixing a fastball and slider, catcher Brandon Harper said: "He had everything working, he located pretty well and his ball had some life to it. . . . He's here for a reason and he's got good stuff. He went after them. He wasn't afraid."
Perez received plenty of help from a Nationals lineup that had been silenced in the series opener a night earlier. Nick Johnson celebrated his 28th birthday with a second-inning home run, his 23rd of the year. Ryan Zimmerman, struggling at the plate, returned from a rare day off to contribute two hits. Austin Kearns added two hits, and Jose Vidro smacked a two-run homer in Washington's most lopsided victory since a 9-1 win over Florida on July 3.
After Johnson's leadoff homer to right-center, the Nationals rallied again an inning later against rookie Chuck James (10-4). Kearns's double to the left field corner brought in Zimmerman and moved Johnson to third. Vidro was intentionally walked to load the bases, and Harper's sacrifice fly was just deep enough to bring in the sliding Johnson.
Vidro expanded the lead to 5-0 in the fifth with a homer to left, his seventh of the year and first since July 14.
"We swung the bats well and put some runs on the board," Johnson said. Added Robinson, "Everyone got involved."
Including recent call-up George Lombard, who pinch-hit for Perez in the sixth, walked, stole both second and third, and trotted home on Zimmerman's double.
The Braves finally scored in the seventh against Saul Rivera to make it 6-1, but the Nationals busted it open in their half on Nook Logan's RBI single and Alfonso Soriano's two-run double -- his 39th of the season to move him to the brink of becoming the first player in major league history to accumulate 40 home runs, 40 steals and 40 doubles in one season.
With the game out of hand, Braves Manager Bobby Cox offered a series of pinch hitters in the eighth against reliever Ryan Wagner, with Pete Orr's grounder knocking in the team's second run.
By then, though, Perez and Washington's hitting had ensured victory.
"We knew after the first inning what he was doing," Cox said. "Pretty simple: just move it in and out."
Perez is hoping last night's effort will leave a lasting impression on Robinson and the front office.
"It was my job to go out there, and I wanted to show them that I could be a starter, especially for next year, that I could be up here," he said. "It's nice. I feel good."