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Bowie’s starts a relief for Nats

- The Washington Times - Monday, June 18, 2007

TORONTO — One month ago, Micah Bowie was an aging, left-handed reliever who had a decent season going in the Washington Nationals' bullpen but hardly could be considered a crucial roster figure.

But that was before four-fifths of the Nationals' rotation landed on the disabled list and general manager Jim Bowden approached the 32-year-old and proposed something drastic.

Desperate for starting pitching, Bowden asked Bowie whether he had interest in leaving his role in the bullpen. Bowie hadn't started in the major leagues in eight years, but he always enjoyed it and figured, Why not give it a try?

All he has done since is revitalize his career and help turn the Nationals from pushovers into a competitive ballclub that's suddenly winning far more than it's losing. That much was evident yesterday in a 4-2 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays, Washington's 21st win in its last 35 games.

"I thought my career was over a long time ago," said Bowie, who made only 19 major league appearances from 2000 to 2005. "I've got to say thanks to Bowden for reviving my career again. I'm very thankful for the opportunity I'm getting."

The pleasure has been all Washington's. At a time when they needed quality starting pitching, the Nationals have gotten more than they expected from the left-hander.

Bowie is 4-2 overall but 4-0 with a 3.82 ERA in his six starts. Even his two no-decisions resulted in team victories.

Suddenly, the Nationals are faced with a potential dilemma. With several of those injured starters perhaps less than two weeks from coming off the disabled list, is Bowie no longer guaranteed of losing his spot in the rotation?

"He's made a very strong case for himself the way he has pitched," manager Manny Acta said. "Obviously, it's going to be a tough decision if we have to make that decision."

Bowie's latest gem (two runs on four hits allowed over six innings) didn't exactly get off to a strong start. The Blue Jays scored a run in the first and then another in the third when veteran Frank Thomas hit his 496th career home run into the second deck beyond the left-center field fence at Rogers Centre.

A few weeks ago, Bowie might have been done at that point. He was still building up arm strength after his conversion. But he has gotten to the point he easily can throw 90-plus pitches, so he moved past the Thomas homer and refocused.

He wound up retiring nine of the last 11 batters he faced and did not allow another hit.

"I think it's getting easier for him to go out there because his pitch count is up," catcher Brian Schneider said. "He knows if he gives up a run or two early, it's alright. He can come back and get some innings and keep the team in the ballgame."

The rest of the Nationals, meanwhile, helped Bowie to a 4-2 lead thanks to several key hits off Toronto starter Josh Towers.

Dmitri Young and Austin Kearns hit back-to-back doubles in the second, with Kearns later scoring on Tony Batista's single up the middle.

Ryan Zimmerman gave Washington the lead for good in the fourth when he turned on Towers' first-pitch, 86 mph fastball and belted it down the left field line for a solo homer. Zimmerman's fourth homer in eight games gave him 12 for the season. His 33 RBI over the last 35 games are tops in the National League.

Ronnie Belliard provided the final run with an RBI single to center in the fifth, setting up the Nationals' bullpen to finish the game off and avoid a three-game sweep to the Blue Jays.

Having gotten six strong innings from Bowie, Acta was able to line up his bullpen how he wanted: Jesus Colome in the seventh, Jon Rauch in the eighth, Chad Cordero in the ninth. The three relievers didn't allow a single man to reach base.

"Today was just the way we kind of drew it," Acta said. "We're more than happy having the lead and having those three guys go back-to-back-to-back."

And the Nationals were more than happy to leave Toronto last night on the end of an impressive road trip. They wound up going 6-3 on Batista's reunion tour — with stops at three of the veteran infielder's previous homes: Minnesota, Baltimore and Toronto.

"I don't think there's a team out there that won't take that," Schneider said.

Two of those wins, of course, were recorded by Bowie. A month ago, who would have thought this relatively obscure lefty would play such a key role in the Nationals' resurgence?

Not even Bowie would have taken that bet.

"At the beginning of the year, I was going to be in the bullpen," Bowie said. "I didn't think something like this was possible."