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Nats Pitchers Put Away the Brooms

Elijah Dukes went 0 for 3 with a walk in the Nationals' 2-1 win over the Orioles yesterday. With the victory, Washington avoided being swept by Baltimore to begin interleague play this season.
Elijah Dukes went 0 for 3 with a walk in the Nationals' 2-1 win over the Orioles yesterday. With the victory, Washington avoided being swept by Baltimore to begin interleague play this season. (By Kevin Clark -- The Washington Post)
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By Marc Carig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 19, 2008

BALTIMORE, May 18 -- John Lannan received the bulk of the credit Sunday afternoon, when his 7 1/3 innings of one-run ball inspired plenty of compliments from his associates and lifted the Washington Nationals to a 2-1 victory, denying the Baltimore Orioles a sweep in this edition of the Beltway Series.

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Said Nationals first baseman Aaron Boone: "I didn't get into any conversations over at first."

Said Manager Manny Acta: "Ridiculous good with his location."

Said catcher Wil Nieves: "There was a lot of swing and miss."

Yet the rave reviews for Lannan might not have come without an assist from right-hander Luis Ayala, the Nationals' reliever who was effective in his third straight outing.

Ayala entered in relief of Lannan in the eighth inning, with one out, Orioles runners at second and third, and the Nationals clinging to a 2-0 lead. Ayala allowed only Brian Roberts's sacrifice fly to score Adam Jones from third -- the run was charged to Lannan -- before retiring Melvin Mora to end the threat. And with that, Ayala continued on his road to recovering from a terrible string of four appearances that started May 6, in which he allowed runs each time.

"We trust him and basically that's a situation where you just got to try to get two outs before they tied the ballgame," said Acta, who kept his confidence in Ayala even during his struggles.

That support, Ayala said, did not go unnoticed.

"I never lost my confidence," he said.

From the start of the season, Washington's pitching staff has carried the load for an offense that has failed to find any punch or consistency. And an example came again when Lannan shepherded the Nationals, whose only offense came on Christian Guzmán's third-inning homer off Orioles starter Jeremy Guthrie and Ryan Zimmerman's RBI double down the right field line in the eighth.

"Everybody knows the state of our offense right now," Acta said. "We just keep battling and winning ballgames due to our good starting rotation right now, scratching with our defense. Hopefully when our offense comes alive, then things will be a little bit easier for us."

That's where Ayala comes into play. The Nationals have received solid starting pitching and reliever Jon Rauch -- who nailed down his eighth straight save in place of Chad Cordero -- continues to look comfortable in the closer's role. But somebody's got to bridge the gap.


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