- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 10, 2008

— The Washington Nationals said all the right things about not being afraid to face a dominant starter for the second time in two days. But none of it mattered.

There’s a reason why the National League’s best pitchers are at their best against the Nationals. When they’re facing a lineup full of players still learning the finer points of hitting, as so many of the Nationals players are, they’re free to simply do their work.

Milwaukee Brewers right-hander Ben Sheets was the latest example Saturday. Like Atlanta’s Tim Hudson in April, Philadelphia’s Cole Hamels and Arizona’s Brandon Webb in May or teammate CC Sabathia on Friday, Sheets overmatched the Nationals with a nasty repertoire and a knowledge of the pressure points that would break Washington’s lineup.

The result was Sheets becoming the second Brewers starter in as many nights to throw a shutout, allowing five hits in a 6-0 win over Washington.

“That’s frontline pitching right there,” manager Manny Acta said. “I’d rather give credit to the guy when he pitches well than pick on my lineup. I’m not beating up on my guys. That guy was tough.”

Sheets’ mastery was less dynamic than Sabathia’s on Friday night but no less thorough and just as efficient. He needed 75 pitches to get through the first six innings, giving up two hits.

Working quickly against a Nationals lineup eager to swing early in the count, Sheets mixed three pitches - a fastball topping out at 94 mph, a change-up in the mid-80s and, perhaps most impressive of all, a curveball in the low 80s - to great effect, getting more outs with his fastball in the middle innings as the Nationals saw the pitch more and more as their only chance to hit him.

He threw just 34 pitches from the fifth to the seventh inning, deviating from his fastball on just nine of those pitches.

The only threat the Nationals made against Sheets (11-5) was in the eighth inning, when Ronnie Belliard and Willie Harris worked him long enough for a single and a double, respectively. But then Sheets returned to the curveball, getting a first-pitch lineout out of pinch hitter Ryan Langerhans, then driving one curveball after another down near Emilio Bonifacio’s ankles until the second baseman waved at three of them.

He calmly induced a groundout to second out of Cristian Guzman, purposefully walking toward the Brewers’ dugout and barely acknowledging the Miller Park crowd of 42,974 as they gave him a standing ovation.

“Any pitcher, when he starts to sniff a complete game shutout, they find a little bit more energy,” Harris said. “When he got off the hook, he smelled the shutout and started throwing harder.”

Meanwhile, Washington starter Tim Redding labored early like he did in his last start against the Rockies. He walked the leadoff batter in both of the first two innings, getting out of the first with a strikeout-throwout double play. In the second, his leadoff walk was followed by a wild pitch to Mike Cameron three batters later. That brought him to the bottom of the Brewers’ order, which couldn’t get the hit it needed to bring a run across.

Still, there was a feeling Redding (8-7) would find trouble if his location continued to be off the next time through. It was, and he did.

Ray Durham and J.J. Hardy started the third with a pair of hits, and both of them scored in the inning. The damage Durham and Hardy inflicted on Redding was even more severe in the fourth inning.

Both hit two-out solo home runs, costing the Nationals’ right-hander a chance to get out of the fourth down only two runs.

Milwaukee hit its third homer of the night in the fifth, a first-pitch blast from Corey Hart to center field that gave the Brewers a 5-0 lead.

It was the fourth time in five starts Redding has failed to reach the sixth inning. He finished having allowed seven hits while walking five, throwing 57 of his 105 pitches for strikes.

“A lot of the change-ups I threw were falling out of the zone. They weren’t swinging at them,” Redding said. “You throw off-speed pitches, you don’t get them to put it in play or swing and miss, all of a sudden, you’ve got to come fastball, and that’s what these guys hit.”

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