Nats Take Two Entering All-Star Break

Gabe Gross and the NL Central-leading Brewers hit a slight slide at RFK. Ray King, right, and the Nationals won two of three, including their first back-to-back wins since June 13-14.
Gabe Gross and the NL Central-leading Brewers hit a slight slide at RFK. Ray King, right, and the Nationals won two of three, including their first back-to-back wins since June 13-14. (Preston Keres - The Washington Post)

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By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 9, 2007

Though the Washington Nationals' offense has struggled in recent weeks, their bats came alive yesterday with 10 hits in a 7-2 win over the Milwaukee Brewers at RFK Stadium. Combined with Saturday night's 5-4 victory, Washington has won consecutive games for the first time since it took three straight June 12-14.

The win, which sent the Nationals into the all-star break at 36-52, was fueled by injury replacements and franchise staples -- a fitting conclusion as the team reached baseball's unofficial midpoint.

Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, heralded as a key part of the Nationals' future, drilled a two-run home run in the sixth that put Washington in front for good. Shortstop Felipe Lopez, batting .242, hit his first home run since May 22. Ronnie Belliard, who entered the game as a pinch hitter in the sixth, slapped a three-run double.

"We're capable of doing stuff like this," Manager Manny Acta said. "Not every day, but we just need to get guys who are struggling to get going a little bit."

Over the first half of the 2007 campaign, the Nationals' struggles have not been limited to those in the batter's box. Four of five pitchers in the starting rotation on Opening Day have spent time on the disabled list, and only Jason Bergmann has come back to the active roster.

So the carousel began spinning. The Nationals inserted Micah Bowie, who opened the season in the bullpen, into the rotation, and he pitched admirably -- until he went on the disabled list as well.

Up came Tim Redding, yesterday's starter, a six-year big league veteran who was sent to Class AAA Columbus out of spring training. The replacement's replacement threw six innings and gave up two runs, five hits and a walk. He earned his first victory as a starter since July 24, 2004, which also came against Milwaukee.

"I definitely miss that feeling," Redding said. "It's good to help the ballclub take steps in the right direction."

When asked to assess the team's first-half performance, Acta noted that the defense had made some progress, the starting pitching responded to its many injuries better than most people thought it would and the bullpen was steady.

He added, "The hitting in the second half is going to be better."

The signal that Acta might be on to something about the hitting came in the sixth inning when Zimmerman lobbed a two-run shot that just cleared the left field fence.

"This past week I've felt better than I have all year," he said.


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