The Washington Times - August 14, 2009, 11:29PM

Ever since they acquired him in 2006, the Washington Nationals have operated on the belief that Garrett Mock would turn into a legitimate big-league starter. They kept it through 2007, when Mock was in the minors and through 2008, when he made a couple of spot starts before being moved to the bullpen.

And this spring, after Mock falters as a reliever, they came back to it, returning him to the starting rotation and watching him thrive again at Class AAA Syracuse.

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Mock had struggled mightily in his first four big-league starts this season. But again, the Nationals stuck to that belief, with the man who drafted him in Arizona — Mike Rizzo — keeping him in the major leagues in Washington.

The last two outings, Mock has begun to reward that faith. He allowed two runs in six innings last week against Arizona, then followed it with his best big-league outing on Friday, when he pitched six shutout innings in a 2-0 Nats win.

Mock struck out six, using his four-pitch repertoire to great effect. He also escaped a jam in the sixth, when he gave up a leadoff double to Laynce Nix and walked Adam Rosales after intentionally walking Jonny Gomes.

With the Nationals up 1-0 and Mock facing a full count against catcher Craig Tatum, he gunned a fastball right down the middle. Tatum popped it up. Inning over.

“He’s going to beat me or I’m going to beat him,” Mock said. “I’m glad it worked out.”

If he continues to grow as a starter this year, that sixth inning could be a watershed moment for Mock, who’s routinely struggled in the middle innings as a starter.

Opponents entered the night hitting .341 off him the second time through the lineup and .476 the third time. He struggled again in those situations on Friday, but fought through them.

“His pitch count was getting up there toward an area he hadn’t been too much,” interim manager Jim Riggleman said. “Having been a reliever, I thought he sucked it up and gave us a great effort there. There’s nothing but good things there in the sixth for him.”