Ayala Shows Durability, Resilience

By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 30, 2008

SAN DIEGO, May 29 -- Washington Nationals right-hander Luis Ayala has pitched 31 games this season, more than anybody else in baseball, and already plenty enough to zigzag his performance level up, way down and way up again.

If nothing else, Ayala's most recent relief appearance removed the final doubts about his form and dependability. During a one-week stretch in early May, Ayala allowed multiple runs in four straight games. His ERA, just 2.93 after April, swelled to 5.96.

Since May 14, though, Ayala has pitched seven times. The numbers? Seven and two-thirds innings, two hits, no runs. The verdict? "He's back to his heyday," Manager Manny Acta said.

Acta showed particular faith in Ayala on Wednesday, inserting him into the game just as Washington appeared on the brink of burning a five-run lead. Ayala took the ball with one out in the seventh, San Diego trailing 6-4 and about to send its third, fourth and fifth hitters to the plate.

Ayala recorded the final outs of the seventh, and then batted in the eighth just so Acta could keep his setup man on the mound.

"He's been a big key for us," Acta said. "Everybody knows he went through that little rough spot; he's human, everybody goes through that. But he bounced back very nicely, and we need him big-time."

Zimmerman Still Out

Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman remains encouraged about the progress of his left shoulder. But on Thursday, the injury kept him from the lineup for the fourth consecutive game. Zimmerman injured the shoulder almost two weeks ago while sliding headfirst into second base against the Baltimore Orioles. After he played for a week with the soreness, the Nationals decided to give their regular No. 3 hitter a chance to fully recuperate. "I'm feeling better," Zimmerman said. "Everything is still going good." . . .

Two injured Nationals, catcher Paul Lo Duca and relief pitcher Chad Cordero, sat in the broadcast booth during MASN's telecast Thursday. They filled in for Don Sutton, whose voice is still recovering from laryngitis. "It was kind of a cool thing," Cordero said.

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