- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 23, 2007

CINCINNATI — In his five previous full seasons in the major leagues, Jesus Colome had never won more than three games. So imagine the right-handed reliever’s shock Tuesday night when he earned his fourth win with the Washington Nationals in less than two months.

“Surprised? Yeah, a little bit,” he said. “But sometimes you come into a tie game and the team scores a couple runs and you win the game.”

Colome has been more than lucky this season. He has been perhaps the Nationals’ best pitcher. Entering last night’s game against the Cincinnati Reds, the 29-year-old had a 2.12 ERA and a .213 opponents’ batting average to go along with his 4-0 record. (No other staff member has more than three wins.)

Not bad for a guy who came to spring training on a minor league contract after flaming out with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Where the previous incarnation was a fastball-only pitcher who would reach triple digits on the radar gun, the new one has learned to ease up on his fastball, locate it better and rely more on his slider and change-up.

“Obviously, coming out of spring training with his track record, we didn’t think he’d be doing what he’s doing,” manager Manny Acta said. “But he has a great arm and he showed in spring training that he was about to turn a corner where he’s not trying to throw 100 mph every night. … He’s turning the corner and becoming a pitcher rather than a thrower. Good for him.”

Pitching coach Randy St. Claire also attributes Colome’s resurgence to a mechanical change he has made in which he no longer reaches too far back before he throws the ball, upsetting his balance and causing him to lose control.

“Now he’s been able to control the fastball, throw it much more down in the zone,” St. Claire said. “And it’s kept his slider much more consistent.”

No time off for Kearns

Despite Austin Kearns’ ongoing struggles at the plate — he had just two hits in his last 29 at-bats entering last night’s game — Acta said the right fielder will continue to play every day.

“It’s part of baseball,” the manager said. “Even the best hitters are going to fail seven out of 10 times. I think he’s going to come out of it. The only way I feel guys come out of it is by playing them.”

Kearns’ slide has dropped his batting average from .271 to .237, its lowest point since the second day of the season.

Meanwhile, left fielder Ryan Church returned to the lineup last night after missing two straight games with a bruised left forearm. Church, who was hit by a pitch Sunday, pinch-ran Tuesday night but did not come to bat or play in the field.

Rotation stays same

Both Acta and St. Claire said they likely will keep their current five-man rotation intact for the next few weeks, despite off-days coming up the next two Mondays.

With two relievers (Levale Speigner and Micah Bowie) currently starting because of injuries, the Nationals could have skipped one of the two and kept everyone else on a five-day schedule.

But St. Claire said he also wants to make sure his young starters, especially rookie Matt Chico, stays fresh for the long haul, and an extra day off now will help.

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