SAN DIEGO — Frank Robinson, at long last, seems to have a stable starting lineup to pencil in every day when he arrives at the ballpark. The additions of Felipe Lopez, Austin Kearns and Ryan Church to a group that already included Alfonso Soriano, Ryan Zimmerman and Nick Johnson gives the Washington Nationals the kind of legitimate offense they’ve been lacking for some time.
Which, of course, doesn’t mean anything if Robinson doesn’t also get quality pitching from a staff that entered last night’s game against the San Diego Padres with a 4.92 ERA that ranked second-to-last in the National League.
So imagine how pleased the manager was with his club’s 6-2 victory before 36,538 at Petco Park. He didn’t just get a nice performance from his lineup, he got the pitching to go along with it for a change.
Ramon Ortiz gets most of the credit for fighting through six less-than-perfect innings to nevertheless get the job done yet again. The right-hander needed 114 pitches to make it that far, but he departed with a comfortable four-run lead and gave the rested Nationals bullpen a chance to close it out.
There’s very little about Ortiz that suggests this slender Dominican is ace material. He has never been the foundation of a pitching staff, and he probably never will be. But he has proven to be an effective middle-of-the-rotation guy for the Nationals, who may have to start thinking about re-signing the 33-year-old for 2007.
With so much uncertainty surrounding the rest of the staff, Ortiz (8-9) has had something of a calming influence on Robinson and pitching coach Randy St. Claire, who know they can count on him to keep his team in the ballgame.
Ortiz did just that last night, holding the Padres to two runs despite never once retiring the side in any of his six innings. He got outs when he needed to, though, twice inducing two-out groundballs out of Josh Bard to quash potential rallies.
And when it did look like he was about to falter, he was bailed out by Alfonso Soriano, who recorded his major league-leading 17th outfield assist in the fifth inning, gunning down speedy Dave Roberts trying to score from second on Adrian Gonzalez’s single to left.
The play at the plate wasn’t even close, begging a simple question: When will opponents finally decide to stop running on Soriano?
Probably around the same time they decide to stop pitching to him, something they surely haven’t done yet. The Padres decided to go after him with two outs in the fifth last night, even with first base open, and Soriano made them pay for it. He drilled a 3-2 pitch from Chris Young just inside the third-base line and down into the corner, scoring Marlon Anderson from second with Washington’s second run of the game.
The Nationals really piled it on in the sixth, producing five straight hits off Young (9-5) and reliever Doug Brocail, including Zimmerman’s 14th homer of the season: a two-run shot into the second deck in left field. Kearns followed soon thereafter with an RBI double to left, then came around to score moments later on Church’s broken-bat single to center.
Handed a comfortable 6-1 lead now, Ortiz retook the mound in the sixth with no reason to nibble around the strike zone. Yet he walked the leadoff man, Geoff Blum, on five pitches [-] the kind of move that drives Robinson batty.
So the 70-year-old manager strode to the mound, not to remove Ortiz from the game but to lay into him for walking the leadoff man with a five-run lead. Robinson’s scowl and emphatic finger-pointing were visible from the upper deck, but he got the message across.
Ortiz threw two straight strikes to the next hitter, then got him to ground into a double play. It took a little schooling from his manager, but he once again got the job done.