- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 5, 2008

— As Ryan Zimmerman dug in for his first at-bat in five days on Monday night a rudimentary pinch-hit appearance to make sure his bruised right hand was in working order before returning to the starting lineup a fan in the lower deck of Coors Field took note by saying, “Zimmerman, he’s the star of the team.”

In a larger sense, yes. As it relates to the Nationals’ August winning streak, which has now equaled a season high at four games, that’s not true. The guy making this run go is the new second baseman who was standing in the on-deck circle as Zimmerman swung.

As he has done in the three previous games since being called up from Class AAA Columbus, Emilio Bonifacio showed again what a striking change he’s capable of causing, both in the course of a game and in the Nationals’ everyday mind-set.

The 23-year-old, acquired July 22 from the Arizona Diamondbacks, keyed the Nationals’ 9-4 win over the Colorado Rockies on Monday night with three hits and anchored a defense that has made one error since he and shortstop Alberto Gonzalez were inserted in the lineup Aug. 1.

Washington hasn’t lost in that time, either, and again on Monday night, there was plenty of credit tossed Bonifacio’s way.

“[He] continues to be a spark offensively and defensively,” manager Manny Acta said of Bonifacio, who is hitting .444 with four runs in his first four games with the Nationals. “He puts a lot of pressure on the other team when he’s on base.”

Bonifacio singled in the third and fourth, scoring in the third when Aaron Cook tried to force Tim Redding at third base. Cook threw wide of Garrett Atkins, bringing in Redding and Bonifacio.

His most impressive at-bat came in the sixth, when Cook threw him a 1-0 fastball on the inside half of the plate. Bonifacio pulled it to right center over Brad Hawpe’s head, tearing around second base and coming into third with a stand-up triple.

He was the catalyst of a Nationals offense that took advantage of an off night from Cook, Colorado’s All-Star right-hander.

Cook repeatedly left his fastball up, and the Nationals hammered him for 11 hits that produced seven runs (though only four were earned). On top of that, Cook threw two wild pitches and walked one.

And while the Rockies’ two errors ultimately led to three runs that helped build the Nationals’ cushion, the other constant was a Washington lineup again able to pounce on mistakes.

The Nationals are 16-for-42 with runners in scoring position their last four games, one of the most important vital signs in their four-game winning streak. It’s also a testament to just how many more chances the Nationals are creating than they were before inserting Bonifacio at the top of the order.

In their nine-game losing streak, they had just 53 at-bats with men in scoring position, getting hits in five of those occasions.

“This is the face of the future. Let’s start trying to do something now,” Redding said. “You see the last four games. Guys are playing with a lot of energy.”

Redding was far from sharp Monday, allowing Colorado’s first four batters to reach safely and putting the Nationals in a 3-0 hole at the end of the first. He only made it through two batters in the sixth inning which turned into his sixth hit and third walk of the game and needed 112 pitches to make it that far.

Despite his inefficiencies, Redding did enough for his team-leading eighth win of the season (and his first ever against an NL West team after 14 losses). He stranded runners at second in both the second and third innings, staving off the Rockies long enough for Washington to grab the lead.

“I didn’t feel right out in the outfield, playing catch, warming up,” Redding said. “The first inning was almost going out there and seeing what I could do, trying to loosen up and at the same time trying to make pitches.”

That he was able to labor through five innings with a win the third in four days for a Nationals starting rotation that had managed three in the previous 24 games showed how different Washington has looked since the beginning of August.

Among others, they have Bonifacio to thank.

“Everybody knows we don’t have a good record right now,” Bonifacio said. “But I feel no matter what, everybody has to do his job. We’re playing good baseball right now.”

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