Nats Receive Contributions From All Around

From left, Jesus Flores, pitching coach Randy St. Claire, Manager Manny Acta and Ryan Church celebrate a victory after two consecutive blowout losses.
From left, Jesus Flores, pitching coach Randy St. Claire, Manager Manny Acta and Ryan Church celebrate a victory after two consecutive blowout losses. (By Gregory Smith -- Associated Press)
By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 10, 2007

ATLANTA, Sept. 9 -- With a pair of forgettable games immediately behind them, the Washington Nationals tried to right things Sunday by inserting a leadoff hitter with a .154 average, playing a center fielder who is struggling to become accustomed to a part-time role, and asking a pitcher who had just two major league appearances since 2004 to record the pivotal out of the game.

So in a season in which the Nationals have perhaps best defined themselves with a refusal to out-and-out collapse, reserve infielder D'Angelo Jimenez came through with three hits and three RBI, former regular Ryan Church drilled the game-changing three-run homer and September call-up Arnie Mu?oz got the one out necessary with the bases loaded. Each player added something essential to a badly needed 7-4 victory over the Atlanta Braves, one that, for now, eclipsed those miserable losses.

"We played real sloppy the last couple days," said third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who added a solo homer in the ninth. "So to be able to come through and get a win salvages something here."

The sloppiness that defined blowout losses Friday and Saturday -- games in which the Nationals committed eight errors and were outscored 16-3 -- was completely gone Sunday, and that allowed right-hander Jason Bergmann to relax and pitch effectively over his six innings. In fact, there was plenty of credit to spread around afterward. Every Washington position player who started had at least one hit, and four relievers allowed just one run in relief of Bergmann.

Considering the Nationals want to keep distance between themselves and the last-place Florida Marlins -- they now lead by three games, and play Florida for the final three times beginning Monday -- every part of this effort was essential.

"It's always good to win on getaway days," Manager Manny Acta said, "because those flights seem to be forever when you lose."

Offensively, Jimenez and Church helped make that flight a bit shorter. Jimenez played shortstop in place of Felipe Lopez and drove in Washington's first run with a single in the third, drilled an RBI double in the seventh and added another insurance run with a run-scoring single in the eighth. This from a 29-year-old veteran who has languished on the Nationals' bench, starting just nine games all year.

"It's been tough, but sometimes you have to learn," Jimenez said. "And I've been learning."

Acta, for one, has been surprised by Jimenez's struggle to adjust to a part-time role. Acta watched the former New York Yankees prospect win batting titles during winter ball in the Dominican Republic. Coming into this year, Jimenez was a .264 career hitter with a respectable .349 on-base percentage. Yet before Sunday, his last game with three RBI was Aug. 22, 2004, when he was playing for Cincinnati.

"This guy can hit," Acta said. "You look at his numbers. This guy hit .368 in Triple A [before he was called up earlier this year]. It wasn't .301 or .299 -- .368. But it's been rough for him making the adjustments coming off the bench."

Church is enduring the same process. Before the Nationals traded for outfielder Wily Mo Pe?a last month, Church started 111 of the club's 122 games. Since then, he has started eight times in 21 games.

"You got to take advantage of the opportunity," Church said Sunday, "because you don't know how many times you're going to get it."

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company