Nationals 'Had No Chance' Vs. Penny

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 30, 2007

There are going to be nights like these, nights when the willing-but-realistic fill-in the Washington Nationals send to the mound does his best to keep his team close, but in the end succumbs to a more talented, more accomplished, more able opponent. For the first six innings last night, Jason Simontacchi allowed little more than a pop-fly triple that led to a run in the first, an infield single that led to a run in the second and three singles in the sixth that plated one more run.

Yet on the other side, dealing for the Los Angeles Dodgers, was a pitcher unlike any the Nationals can boast, even when they are healthy. Brad Penny hit 95 mph on the radar gun, put nearly any pitch in nearly any spot at nearly any time he wanted it, and fairly dominated the Nationals in a 10-0 victory that began a nine-game homestand at RFK Stadium in markedly subdued fashion.

Don't let any analysis get too deep. Get past an unexpected performance from Dodgers leadoff man Juan Pierre -- a player who had six extra-base hits heading into the night ripped four in five at-bats -- and a three-run homer from veteran Luis Gonzalez, and it was all rather simple. It came down to Penny's 6 1/3 innings of scoreless ball.

"Too much for us today," Nationals Manager Manny Acta said. "Dominant. He had command of every one of his pitches, and every one of his pitches is above average. No chance. We had no chance."

Not the dream fashion in which to start the homestand, but in a way, one that's easy to dismiss. Simontacchi's fastball is 88 mph, not 95, and he is trying to re-establish himself in the major leagues after a two-year absence, not start the all-star game by being the ace of a club in first-place. Blowout? There's an answer for that.

"Tomorrow," left fielder Ryan Church said. "Got a game tomorrow. That was a butt-whipping, but it happened. That's the great thing about baseball. You can come out hacking the next day."

Penny's performance wasn't his best of the year, but it did just fine. He allowed four singles, walked one, and didn't allow a man to reach scoring position until the seventh. With that, he improved to 7-1, lowered his ERA to 2.06 and continued a run that has made him -- along with San Diego's Jake Peavy, whom the Nationals will face Friday -- one of the league's most dominant forces in the first two months.

Last night, he started everything off his fastball, but mixed in a split-fingered pitch to go with a curveball, using different approaches against different hitters.

"To me, he threw a couple first-pitch curveballs," Nationals catcher Brian Schneider said.

"He didn't really throw me any curveballs," third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said.

So start guessing. Penny's only loss came May 18, when he allowed eight earned runs over five innings to the Los Angeles Angels. In his other 10 starts, he has combined to give up eight earned runs, and he hasn't given up a run since that appearance.

"I think he was making stuff up," Church said.

So just like that, Washington's rejuvenated offense -- a unit that hit .310 on a just-completed seven-game trip -- was halted again, suffering its fifth shutout of the year, managing five hits.

That Simontacchi wasn't able to match Penny was frustrating only to Simontacchi himself, perhaps. His line was, indeed, ugly -- 6 1/3 innings in which he gave up 11 hits and six runs, all earned. "I thought his outing was better than the numbers will show in the box score," Acta said.

Simontacchi's take: "The numbers ain't gonna lie. I must've not done that good. Just very frustrating."

If there was a turning point -- one other than the moment Penny stepped on the mound to throw his first pitch -- it came with the Dodgers leading 3-0 in the seventh. With the bases loaded and nobody out, Nomar Garciaparra tapped a ball to Zimmerman at third. With Penny on third, Zimmerman thought he had a chance for the force play at home. He twirled, but threw wildly. Two runs scored on the play -- ruled a single and an error -- and two batters later, Gonzalez followed with his homer off reliever Winston Abreu, making it 9-0.

With that, the Nationals were left to find a silver lining in the fact that they only used two relievers, and the key members of the bullpen will be rested the rest of the series. Beyond that? Shower, eat, head home, rest, come back -- and hope tonight's opponent, Derek Lowe, doesn't deal as Penny dealt.

"Just a game," Acta said. "Over. Tomorrow, we're starting another one. We're throwing Mike Bacsik against Derek Lowe. Game over. Back at it maƱana."

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