CINCINNATI | The two pillars upon which the Cincinnati Reds built one of the swiftest and most decisive wins anyone has scored over the Washington Nationals this season - Bronson Arroyo’s two-hit, 7-0 shutout and Jonny Gomes’ three home runs - seemed to be at opposite ends of the spectrum.
Arroyo, pitching the same day a USA Today story ran detailing his extensive use of supplements, some not approved by Major League Baseball, didn’t need much help to thoroughly control a listless Nationals offense Thursday. And Gomes made his mark simply by crushing pitches he should have crushed.
There was nothing fancy, and seemingly nothing connected, about the two. But there was a bridge between the Reds’ two pillars - struggling Nationals starter Collin Balester.
The 23-year-old right-hander, who began the year as one of Washington’s brightest pitching prospects, has struggled to maintain that status because of continued mistakes. And Gomes broke the game open because he couldn’t match Arroyo.
While the Reds starter was dealing, Balester continued to battle his growing problem with home runs. On Thursday night, they put the Nationals in a big enough hole to blot out whatever good work he did around them.
“I just kind of left some pitches up - those three pitches especially that they hit out of the park,” Balester said. “Besides the three pitches I gave up the home runs to, I felt like I’ve pitched the best I have [all year].”
It wasn’t as though Arroyo did anything particularly overwhelming; his fastball topped out at 91 mph. And he didn’t adhere to the most basic tenet of pitching efficiency - he threw first-pitch strikes to just 16 of 30 batters.
What Arroyo did have was a full complement of breaking pitches that, when combined with a fastball that he sometimes cut, kept the Nationals from ever solving him.
“It’s not an overpowering fastball,” first baseman Adam Dunn said. “It’s a good fastball when he’s throwing it for a strike. You’ve got to respect his off-speed stuff, because that’s what he lives on. But when he’s throwing that fastball up and in to keep you honest, he’s tough. He shut down a pretty good offense, I think.”
Washington had just two hits in the first seven innings - a pair of singles from Dunn and Ryan Zimmerman. Arroyo hit a batter and walked one in the third. That still wasn’t enough to spark a rally.
Arroyo got 13 groundouts, needed just 103 pitches to go the distance and allowed just one baserunner after the fourth.
“It seemed like we were hitting the ball off the end of the bat all day,” interim manager Jim Riggleman said. “That’s a testament to what he was able to do out there. We just couldn’t square him up.”
The Reds had no such problems with Balester.
He entered Thursday’s game having given up six home runs in four starts, including three in his last outing against the Diamondbacks.
In Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park, that’s a highly combustible tendency.