- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 20, 2008

There will come a point sometime in the next few weeks when talk around baseball turns to which players are deserving of All-Star consideration.

For a team like the Washington Nationals, this often can become an arduous task. League rules require that at least one player from each club makes the All-Star roster, and through the season’s first seven weeks, few Nationals can make legitimate claims for inclusion.

Perhaps, though, there is a veteran right-hander who deserves to start having his name mentioned. Few around the sport might recognize what Tim Redding is doing, but the Nationals certainly can attest after witnessing yet another dominant performance from the 30-year-old last night in a 4-0 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies.

“The ace?” Ryan Zimmerman responded when Redding’s name was mentioned following this latest win.

Redding (6-3, 3.16 ERA) certainly has made a case for that designation, not only this season but since he debuted for Washington last summer. He has made 25 starts for the franchise, posting a 3.45 ERA along the way. He has allowed three earned runs or less in 20 of those outings and two earned runs or less in 14 of them.

“He’s been our most consistent guy since last year,” manager Manny Acta said.

And he has been great against the Phillies‘ vaunted lineup, holding them scoreless over 131/3 innings so far this year. Any explanation for that kind of dominance against Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Co.?

“The grace of God?” Redding said with a laugh. “There’s not a lot of guys out there, let alone teams, that throw shutouts against those guys.”

Redding admittedly caught some breaks last night at Nationals Park, escaping some early jams thanks to sterling defensive work behind him from Zimmerman (who made two highlight-reel plays) and making a key adjustment along the way.

After throwing primarily breaking balls during the first inning, Redding retreated to the dugout and received a bit of a tongue-lashing from bench coach Pat Corrales.

“Use your fastball,” Corrales implored. “You’ve got a good one. Use it.”

“It felt dead,” Redding replied.

“Dead?” Corrales said. “You just threw a fastball by a home-run hitter in a home-run count. It ain’t dead.”

Point taken. Redding went back out for the second and started establishing his 93 mph fastball. The Phillies had no answer for it, failing to push across a single run over his 61/3 innings.

Redding had the benefit of pitching with an early lead after the manner in which the Nationals pounced on Phillies right-hander Brett Myers (2-5). Cristian Guzman beat out a grounder to short in the first, moved to third on Zimmerman’s double to left and then scored on Dmitri Young’s line drive to center to give Washington a 1-0 lead.

Two innings later, Lastings Milledge contributed one of his biggest hits in a while: a two-run bloop single to right that brought home Felipe Lopez and Guzman and made it 3-0.

That one well-placed hit probably won’t spark Milledge out of a prolonged slump that dropped his average to .234. But if nothing else, it gave the 23-year-old center fielder reason to smile and to take solace knowing he contributed to a victory.

“I needed it more for the team than for myself,” he said. “I know I’ll hit eventually and I’ll come out of the funk that I’ve been in. But you know, the team’s always first.”

The Nationals added another insurance run in the seventh, drawing more applause from the crowd of 25,394. By that point, Redding had departed and turned things over to the Washington bullpen, which completed the club’s fifth shutout in 46 games this season (just one shy of last year’s total).

Redding has been responsible for two of those shutouts, not to mention countless other strong pitching performances over the last 10 months that have given the rest of the Nationals confidence every time he takes the mound.

“I think we kind of expect him to do it now,” Zimmerman said. “It’s nice to have someone who we can expect every fifth day to go out there and give us a chance to win if we score four or five runs.”

It doesn’t hurt that the man taking the ball every fifth day has renewed confidence in himself five years removed from his 10-win season in Houston.

“I’m comfortable in my own skin,” Redding said. “Which is something I haven’t been in a while.”

SEEN AND HEARD AT NATIONALS PARK

 Growing up in poverty-stricken Dominican Republic, Manny Acta always appreciated when a local professional ballplayer would come home with a big bag of used baseball equipment and distribute the contents to children. Now that he has made it in the big leagues, Acta has made a point to return the favor. He frequently sends boxes of equipment to the Dominican, and yesterday he handed out 180 pairs of cleats to D.C. high school players. These weren’t used shoes, either, but a full batch of new ones courtesy of Under Armour, which has Acta as a client.

 “It was great,” the manager said. “My first pair of shoes had a hole. Now I’m able to give guys brand-new shoes. It felt good.”

- Mark Zuckerman

BY THE NUMBERS

34 Combined homers for the Phillies‘ Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Pat Burrell. The Nationals have hit 31 homers as a team this season going into last night’s game.

TODAY’S GAME

Phillies LHP Cole Hamels Record, ERA: 5-3, 2.89

Nationals RHP Jason Bergmann Record, ERA: 1-1, 7.45

Time: 7:10 p.m. TV: MASN2

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