A nice, tidy victory

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Some thoughts after watching the Nationals pull off a nice, clean 5-3 victory over the Pirates this afternoon, snapping a four-game losing streak in the process…

— Collin Balester has learned an important lesson: To succeed in the major leagues, you have to get ahead in the count. The young right-hander has done that since returning from Syracuse, and today did it very well over 5 2/3 innings. Balester consistently threw strike one, and because of it he kept his pitch count down and probably could have stayed in the game longer if not for a matchup issue in the sixth. “It’s a huge part of the game, just throwing strikes,” he said. “That’s what they teach you in Little League, all the way to now. I’ve finally gotten it this year: Just throw strikes and get ahead early. Make them hit my pitch.”

— Josh Willingham is a legitimate major league hitter. With a two-run homer and an RBI double today, the outfielder/first baseman continued a hot streak that has now been going on for three months. In 66 games since May 5, Willingham is batting .332 with 16 homers, 20 doubles and 40 RBI. “I can’t really explain it,” he said. “I’m just glad that I’m in there every day. I’m just trying to simplify everything and get a good pitch to hit it. I’m trying not to think about it too much. I think sometimes you can get yourself into trouble when you’re trying to think about it too much.” Now do you understand why Mike Rizzo didn’t want to trade this guy?

— Sean Burnett and Ron Villone did a nice job in getting key outs to quash rallies. Friday’s trade of Joe Beimel leaves the Nats without a legit setup man. Burnett and Villone will have to pick up the slack, and both did it today. Burnett has been doing it for a month now since his acquisition from the Pirates. Do you know that opponents are batting just .098 against him since the trade? Impressive.

— Elijah Dukes had a great takeout slide of second baseman Delwyn Young to break up a double play. That allowed Willingham to advance to third, and later to score on Alberto Gonzalez’s groundout. Without Dukes’ slide, there would have been two outs and Willingham couldn’t have scored. That kind of effort didn’t go unnoticed on the rest of the Nats. “Absolutely,” Villone said. “We’re in the bullpen and we’re like: That’s how you play the game. Clean, hard. It makes a difference. It says we’re coming here to play, we’re not going to back off. I think it’s real important, especially for a team that’s been on and off and not finishing games.”

Final game of the series tomorrow night, with Garrett Mock trying to avoid going 0-5 against Charlie Morton, one of about 37 players the Pirates have acquired via trade this season.

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Mark Zuckerman

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