By Mark Viera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Washington Nationals President Stan Kasten smiled and patted closer Joel Hanrahan on his right shoulder, which was sheathed in ice packs. By the time Hanrahan turned around, a pack of reporters had arrived. You want to talk to me again? he asked.
For a second straight night, Hanrahan earned a save. That, of course, means the Nationals won for a second straight night. A 5-4 victory against the Los Angeles Dodgers before 22,907 gave Washington its fourth win in its last six games.
The Nationals, who benefited early from some of the Dodgers' sloppiness, gained the advantage with a seventh-inning home run by Ryan Zimmerman. Starter Tim Redding got caught on three mistakes -- all of which were deposited in the seats as solo home run balls -- and then Hanrahan sealed the game after entering in the eighth inning. That, in particular, has attracted attention.
"His demeanor out there is getting better and better," Manager Manny Acta said of Hanrahan. "He's taking a liking to the job and he's done well. Overall, I still think that he needs to throw a higher percentage of strikes . . . but he's got good stuff and he likes the job. We've still got a month to see him. And we'll see where that takes us."
Said Zimmerman: "I think he's done a great job, especially the first couple of years coming out of the pen to be thrown into the saver's role. He's got a lot of talent and he's learned a lot and we trust him there. Hopefully he'll be there a long time."
Two nights ago, Hanrahan struggled to get outs. Asked to bail out his team last night, Hanrahan responded. He used a biting slider and a steady fastball to get through the Dodgers, even when called on during a bases-loaded eighth inning. He pitched 1 1/3 innings, allowing one hit to the five batters he faced. Forget about some of the control problems that have nagged in the past. Hanrahan stepped up last night, helping to steer Washington to the win.
"I felt confident out there and I was just trying to throw strikes," Hanrahan said, "and I was able to get my good slider out there today."
Redding (9-8) looked creaky from the outset. The Dodgers spiked two home runs off him in the second inning. Leadoff batter James Loney drove a 1-2 pitch over the right field wall, sending an 88-mph cutter deep and into the stands for his 11th home run of the season. Casey Blake later smothered a 79-mph curveball, driving it into left center field.
But at times Los Angles stumbled, ugliness revealing itself in many plays. The Dodgers overthrew balls and poorly fielded easy grounders.
The Nationals took advantage in the third and fourth innings, when they managed to put together runs in piecemeal fashion. Greg Maddux (6-11) was done by the sixth inning. His performance? Shaky, at best. His defensive support? Even worse. He allowed two earned runs on eight hits with no strikeouts, a walk and a hit batsman.
Zimmerman provided the go-ahead run in the seventh with a home run to center field. He whipped a 3-2 pitch that Chan Ho Park left over the heart of the plate, driving it very deep for his ninth homer of the season.
"I've been seeing the ball well and having good at-bats," said Zimmerman, who hit his first home run since May 17. "I'm just now starting to feel comfortable to where I was before."
Reliever Saúl Rivera scuffled during his eighth-inning appearance, during which he gave up a run to narrow Washington's lead, and exited with the bases loaded. That's when Hanrahan entered. And he did not back down.
"He looks aggressive, like he's smelling blood when he's out there," Acta said. "He doesn't look as tentative as he was in the beginning of the season."
But Hanrahan had struggled to close Tuesday night's game. His performance that night teetered on the verge of disastrous, as the Dodgers nearly exploded his save attempt. He needed 25 pitches to guard a 2-1 lead, but emerged unharmed. It was still unsettling.
But after his performance last night -- an eighth inning when he helped the Nationals from a bases-loaded jam and a ninth inning during which he allowed only one hit -- Hanrahan has started to assert himself in the closer's role.
"You can't let them beat you," Hanrahan said. "You gotta go out there and do your best to beat them. It's a situation where you've gotta give them your best stuff and attack them. Once the ball leaves your hand it's kinda out of your control. Fortunately, I was able to get it done."