- The Washington Times - Monday, May 23, 2005

TORONTO — Has Tomo Ohka turned the corner?

His control appears to be back. His ERA is shrinking. He’s throwing strikes. He’s staying ahead of hitters. And he came up big when the Washington Nationals desperately needed him yesterday.

Banished to the bullpen earlier in the month, Ohka turned in a gem and improved his chances of fighting his way back into manager Frank Robinson’s starting rotation.

After two straight games in which the Toronto Blue Jays treated Nationals’ starting pitchers as if they were still taking batting practice, Ohka turned in his longest outing of the season.

Ohka pitched a solid eight innings, allowing just two runs on five hits, as the Nationals rallied from an early deficit to defeat the Blue Jays 9-2 in an interleague game before 28,408 at Rogers Centre.

With the win, Ohka moved to 3-3 with a 3.71 ERA. He threw 102 pitches and walked just one.

“Hey, let’s not jump to conclusions here, we thought [Tony] Armas and [Claudio] Vargas turned the corner too, but they turned the corner and went back the other way,” Robinson said. “We’ll wait and see. It was encouraging, let me put it that way.”

After trailing 2-0, the Nationals captured the lead with a five-run fifth highlighted by a Jose Guillen triple with the bases loaded.

The Nationals (24-20) extended their lead to 8-2 in the seventh on rookie Tony Blanco’s first career homer. Blanco’s three-run blast to center field was the first homer by a Nationals player with more than one man on base and helped keep Washington from being swept for the first time this season.

“He’s a monster, just call him killer,” Guillen said of Blanco, a Rule 5 draftee who hit 29 home runs in the Cincinnati Reds’ farm system last year.

Blanco’s home run traveled an estimated 411 feet off Blue Jays reliever Vinnie Chulk. Blanco also reached base in the ninth on a throwing error by Toronto shortstop Russ Adams, and later scored on a Carlos Baerga groundout.

“Anytime you can drive in three runs with one swing of the bat, it’s a big hit,” Robinson said.

Blanco was forced into action in the third inning when starting third baseman Vinny Castilla left the game because of soreness in his left knee. In the fifth, Blanco moved to left field when Jeffrey Hammonds, who was later placed on the disabled list, left the game with a pulled right hamstring.

Ohka’s only troubles came in the fourth. He walked Alex Rios to open the inning, then got behind 2-0 in the count to Shea Hillenbrand and was forced to throw a pitch down the middle. Hillenbrand then belted his fifth home run of the season to give the Blue Jays a 2-0 lead.

Otherwise, Ohka was in command. He had won once before in this stadium — when it was called SkyDome — as he had a no-hitter in the seventh inning on June29, 2003 until Carlos Delgado doubled.

Ohka has pitched well in three of his last four appearances. The exception came May6 at San Francisco, where he lasted just four innings and gave up three runs on four hits before being jettisoned to the bullpen.

In mop-up duty Tuesday night against the Milwaukee Brewers, he pitched 52/3 scoreless innings in relief of Vargas. Ohka was called upon to start yesterday because John Patterson, out with a sore lower back, was not able to pitch.

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