Chico Does Enough For Win

Ken Griffey Jr. isn't too happy with home plate umpire Chuck Meriweather after he was called out on a check swing in the sixth.
Ken Griffey Jr. isn't too happy with home plate umpire Chuck Meriweather after he was called out on a check swing in the sixth. (By Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)
By Marc Carig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 1, 2007

In a season marked by the constant march of pitchers to the disabled list, rookie Matt Chico has stood as the sole survivor for the Washington Nationals, the only member of the rotation who has not missed a start to injury.

Thus far, the reward for his physical durability has been the constant test of his mental toughness. And much like a poker player who continues to ante up, Chico has absorbed his share of bad breaks during his rookie campaign, accumulating a string of tough no-decisions.

But as at the tables, if you stick around long enough, good things can happen. Such was the case for Chico as the Nationals beat the Cincinnati Reds, 6-3, last night to give the 24-year-old major league victory No. 5, even though he wasn't around to see it.

Nationals Manager Manny Acta pulled the pitcher for a pinch hitter in the fifth inning with Washington trailing by two runs, which Chico had allowed on four straight hits in the top of the inning.

The Nationals, however, responded with five runs to take a 5-2 lead and control of the game. Washington then made the lead stand, making it possible for Chico to catch his good break.

"This one kind of made up for one of those, where he has given us a chance and we haven't got him a 'W,' " Acta said of Chico. "It wasn't pretty but he ended up getting it."

Nationals infielder Ronnie Belliard did his part preserving the lead in the sixth inning when he turned in a highlight-reel play at second base that would eventually save a run. Later, reliever Chad Cordero -- who along with reliever Jon Rauch had been rumored as a tradable commodity -- pitched a perfect ninth for his 22nd save to close out what became a quiet trade deadline period for the Nationals. Neither player was dealt, a relief for the club's veterans.

"Obviously, they're a big part of our team," Nationals catcher Brian Schneider said. "From my standpoint, I still have a big smile on my face."

Said Acta, "I know for sure that we're going to win more games now that they're staying."

After the afternoon deadline passed, Chico went about his usual business. He allowed two runs on nine hits in five innings of work. He threw 90 pitches and issued three walks. The Reds hit him hard to chase him from the game in the fifth inning.

But Chico (5-6) also pitched well enough to give the Nationals a chance. The two earned runs were Chico's lowest total since his last win, when he pitched seven scoreless innings against the Chicago Cubs on July 4.

"He's been our only guy that's been out there every time that he's supposed to be and he's been consistent," third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "We know what we're going to get out of him every time. Even when he doesn't have his best stuff, he's going to battle and stay composed."

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