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Armas on mark against Cubs

- The Washington Times - Monday, July 24, 2006

Right-hander Tony Armas Jr., who has had problems going deep into games because of high pitch counts this season, threw seven strong innings yesterday to lead the Washington Nationals to a 7-1 victory against the Chicago Cubs.

Armas allowed just one run on three hits as the Nationals completed their first sweep of the season at RFK Stadium before 30,851.

"I can't complain. It was a good day. I got a win, and I'm happy for it," Armas said. "From the get-go in the bullpen, everything was working. In the bullpen, when you have your command, that's when you dictate. Sometimes you're out [in the bullpen], and you can't find that one pitch, and you're like, '[Heck], what am I going to do next. I've got to find another one."

But Armas had his entire arsenal at his disposal yesterday, retiring the first eight batters he faced until Chicago rookie pitcher Carlos Marmol lined a two-out single to center field in the third inning. Armas then retired eight of the next nine batters.

With the win, Armas (7-5) matched Livan Hernandez for the most victories by a Nationals pitcher this season. It was just the second time Armas has gone seven innings this season. Coming into the game, he was averaging a little less than 51/3 innings in his 16 starts.

"That was a very good outing for him, and it didn't look like he was laboring out there today," Nationals manager Frank Robinson said. "When you're throwing strikes and getting hitters in a swinging mode, then you can get some outs, even if you make pitches off the plate a little bit. The main thing is he wasn't behind on a lot of hitters today."

Armas didn't walk a batter and struck out three. Juan Pierre, the Cubs' leadoff man, was the only hitter who had a good day against Armas: 2-for-4 with a double and a triple.

Armas left the game after 98 pitches, 62 for strikes. Coming into the game, Armas was averaging 17.8 pitches an inning.

"Some games you go out there and hitters just give you a hard time, just foul, foul, foul. That's why your pitch count goes up," Armas said. "It's going to happen once in a while."

A two-run single by shortstop Felipe Lopez gave the Nationals (43-56) a 2-0 lead in the third inning. Washington increased the lead to 5-0 in the fourth on Alfonso Soriano's 31st home run of the season and Ryan Church's fifth homer of the season off Marmol (3-4).

Soriano, who went 2-for-5 with a double, home run, one RBI and two runs, nearly had three home runs. He just missed clearing RFK's fence with fly balls to the warning track in the first and sixth innings.

"The most important thing is that we won the game today, and I felt very good at home plate, too," Soriano said.

Soriano has four doubles over two games for the first time in his career. In the series against the reeling Cubs (37-60), Soriano went 7-for-13 (.538) with a home run, triple, four doubles, two RBI, two stolen bases and six runs.

For Church, it was just good to be back. The Nationals recalled Church from Class AAA New Orleans on Saturday as an outfield insurance policy now that center fielder Alex Escobar has a right hamstring strain. In his second at-bat, Church crushed an 0-1 Marmol pitch into the red upper deck seats in right field.

"It's always nice to get off to a good start," Church said.

The Nationals tacked on a couple of unearned runs in the seventh inning when Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee committed an error charging a Marlon Anderson ground ball to give Washington a 7-1 lead.

The Cubs scored their only run on Neifi Perez's sixth-inning sacrifice that scored Pierre.