NATIONALS NOTEBOOK

Improving Chico Cites Better Focus

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By Marc Carig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 15, 2007

BALTIMORE, June 14 -- Since enduring a brutal welcome to the major leagues, Washington Nationals left-hander Matt Chico has settled into a solid groove. The 24-year-old continued to pitch well, though his performance was lost in the dramatics of Wednesday night's 9-6 victory over the Baltimore Orioles.

Chico allowed two earned runs in 6 2/3 innings against the Orioles, the fourth straight start in which he has allowed three earned runs or fewer. Chico's ERA fell to a season-low 4.66.

"I've really tried to focus on getting first-pitch strikes and not worrying about what's going to happen and just letting the defense take care of it," said Chico, who struggled with control problems during his awful April.

Chico has allowed no more than three walks in each of his past eight starts. He said he's gained more command of his pitches, most notably his change-up, which he has had enough confidence to throw in fastball counts.

"He's been pretty consistent," Nationals Manager Manny Acta said. "He's not lights-out every single time out there, but he has been able to compete and give us a chance to win pretty much in every one of his outings in the last month and a half."

Acta said part of the improvement has been because of better preparation. Acta has noticed Chico spending more time studying hitters and analyzing scouting reports.

Speigner Gets a Grip

Right-hander Levale Speigner may have picked up something useful when he outdueled Johan Santana in Minnesota last Saturday. Speigner adjusted the grips of several of his pitches, making some of them easier to throw.

Speigner said the biggest difference has come with the slider, which he started throwing with more of a curveball-like grip.

"I was able to throw it comfortably to the outside corner to lefties and it was good," said Speigner.

Speigner allowed just one run in six innings against the Twins, his best start since injuries forced Acta to move him from long relief to the starting rotation a month ago.


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