Nats Get Bats Going In Rout

Ryan Zimmerman
Ryan Zimmerman rakes in four RBI on Thursday and gets the ball rolling early, hitting a two-run homer in the first inning. (Jonathan Newton - The Washington Post)
By Josh Barr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 1, 2007

What a sight it was for the Washington Nationals, to walk from the on-deck circle and into the batter's box last night. There, the Nationals could dig in and, for the first time in three games, not have to face a former all-star game starter. Instead, the Los Angeles Dodgers sent out a former NBA forward with a career winning percentage of .455.

After attributing their deficiencies at the plate the previous two nights to the opposing pitchers, the Nationals last night rediscovered their offense. Several struggling players made key contributions and the Nationals matched the most runs they have ever scored in a home game and had their second-highest total this season.

Ryan Zimmerman hit a two-run homer in the first inning, Dmitri Young had a season-high four hits and Brian Schneider delivered a two-run single as the Nationals took the finale of the three-game series, 11-4, before 20,982 at RFK Stadium.

Zimmerman added a two-run double off the fence in right-center and Cristian Guzman had a double, two singles and a walk as the Nationals (22-32) avoided being swept and dropped the Dodgers (31-22) into a tie for first place with Arizona and San Diego in the National League West.

"Hopefully we can keep this going," Zimmerman said. "We've got another pretty good pitcher to face" tonight .

That would be San Diego's Jake Peavy, who sports a 7-1 record and 1.47 ERA. In the first two games of the series against the Dodgers, the Nationals failed to score against Brad Penny (the 2006 National League all-star starter) and Derek Lowe (the 2002 American League starter), losing 10-0 and 5-0.

Last night, however, the Nationals enjoyed a brief reprieve. At 6 feet 9, Mark Hendrickson's claim to fame is being the tallest player in Dodgers history. He averaged 3.3 points and 2.8 rebounds in four seasons in the NBA before opting for a baseball career.

With the Nationals' bats in working order, converted reliever Micah Bowie (2-2) helped them stay in front in his third start of the season. After a mammoth solo homer by Russell Martin in the second inning, Bowie allowed just two more hits before leaving with one out in the sixth, though two runners on base scored after the bullpen took over.

"Every one of those guys that is filling in, anytime they go past the fifth inning I feel grateful," Nationals Manager Manny Acta said.

Last night's good feelings even stretched to Nationals' bullpen. Jon Rauch, who had allowed seven runs in four innings in his previous four outings, pitched a scoreless eighth inning. After the Nationals scored five runs in the bottom of the eighth to put the game away, closer Chad Cordero pitched the ninth for his ninth consecutive scoreless appearance.

Getting an early lead, though, and staying on top made things easier for all the pitchers.

Zimmerman and Young, batting third and fourth in the lineup, were a combined 0 for 10 in the series' first two games, though Young sat out the first because of a strained lower back. Schneider had just one hit in the two games and was batting just .196 in his previous 13 games. Each of the three had key hits last night as every starting position player reached base safely.

Guzman started the offensive outpouring with a one-out double down the left field line. Zimmerman then lined an 0-1 pitch over the fence in left for his seventh home run and a 2-0 lead.

"We hadn't scored in two days," Bowie said he thought to himself. "Better hold the lead."

That he did, and soon the margin got bigger. Zimmerman walked and scored on a sacrifice fly by Austin Kearns in the third inning. Then the Nationals scored three runs in the fifth, knocking out Hendrickson. Schneider's two-run single -- the team's ninth hit of the game, as many as they totaled against Penny and Lowe -- made it 6-1. Ryan Church's two-run homer in the eighth closed out the scoring.

"Oh, huge," Acta said of scoring early. "A lot of weight off your shoulder. Most of the time, when you snap those scoreless streaks, it's usually the first inning, right away. So it's like, 'Okay, we came out swinging. Good.' The good thing about it is it gives you hope you're going to score a lot of runs that day when you start off just like that."

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