Flores, Lannan Are Enough for Nationals

Washington starter John Lannan snapped a stretch during which he had gone winless in his last eight starts, with little run support.
Washington starter John Lannan snapped a stretch during which he had gone winless in his last eight starts, with little run support. (By Richard A. Lipski -- The Washington Post)
  Enlarge Photo     Buy Photo
By Andrew Astleford
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 10, 2008

The end of eight games of ache and heartbreak sailed through the thick summer night's air and into the left field stands. Jesús Flores's pinch-hit, three-run home run in the sixth inning provided respite for the Washington Nationals in a 5-0 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks last night.

Gone was a six-game losing streak.

Gone was pitcher John Lannan's streak of eight starts without a victory.

Gone was the anemic offensive production that had plagued the Nationals in recent weeks.

Gone was the frustration.

Manager Manny Acta "just gave me the opportunity to pinch-hit," Flores said. "He believes in me, and I feel that confidence."

The Nationals did, too. The home run gave Washington its decisive margin of victory on a night when everything seemed to fall in place: Lannan handcuffed Arizona's lineup, the Nationals' infield delivered timely double plays, Washington's offense sprung to life and, with the ninth inning's final out recorded, fireworks exploded above Nationals Park, sending the home team into the clubhouse as victors for the first time since July 1.

No one could have been happier about the offensive effort than Lannan. His last eight starts had been solid outings wasted because of little or no run support. He had gone 0-5 dating from a 2-1 victory over the Baltimore Orioles on May 18. Included in that stretch were four appearances when Lannan did not receive more than one run of assistance.

He had another productive night, despite saying he lacked his best material. He pitched six innings and allowed two hits, and no Arizona base runner reached second base when he was on the hill. His two-seam fastball was his most effective pitch, yet he offered hitters a slider, curveball and change-up to keep them off balance.

His demeanor appeared calm and collected; the lone sign of frustration occurred when, in the fourth inning, he walked Conor Jackson with the bases empty. One batter later, Mark Reynolds grounded into a 4-6-3 double play, and the Nationals trotted off the field unscathed.

"I'll take five runs any day," Lannan said. "It's a great feeling for guys to come out here and play their butts off. Without my best stuff, it's great to get a win out of it."

Meantime, Arizona pitcher Micah Owings struggled. In 5 2/3 innings, he allowed one hit but five walks and three runs. Despite numerous visits from teammates hoping to calm him, he could not find his command. On numerous occasions, he brushed back batters from the plate, eventually hitting three. At times, he shook his head as he tried to find his control, but the effort was fruitless.

Dmitri Young began the Nationals second by singling on a sharp line drive to center field. Then Owings hit Paul Lo Duca and Ronnie Belliard on consecutive at-bats, loading the bases. He threw five consecutive fastballs to Kory Casto and walked him on a pitch low and outside. That drove in Young, giving the Nationals a 1-0 lead. Washington had a chance to build the advantage, but Lannan grounded into a 4-6-3 double play to end the threat.

Owings won his first four starts this season, but entering yesterday, he had an 0-5 record and an 8.28 ERA over his last six outings. The streak began on May 30 with a 7-0 loss to the Nationals, during which he allowed six runs in 6 1/3 innings.

"He struggled with his control, and we were just trying to put up quality at-bats," Acta said. "Even Lannan, who usually doesn't even put the bat on the ball . . . hits into a double play" in the second inning.

When it ended, Washington walked away in relief. After Augie Ojeda's line drive glided into Roger Bernadina's glove for the game's final out, the Nationals slapped hands on the field as music played. They were winners once more.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company