- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 15, 2009

CINCINNATI | Garrett Mock is just 26 years old, yet it feels as if his baseball career has been through several lifetimes already.

He has been an ascending pitching prospect in two organizations, called up as a spot starter, converted to the bullpen, touted as a potential setup man or closer and then was stripped of that role. He regained his front-burner prospect status as a starter and finally came back to the majors.

Mock’s first four starts this year were just this side of disastrous. He didn’t go more than 5 1/3 innings in any of them, allowed at least four runs three times and gave up seven or more hits every time. Despite the Washington Nationals’ front office continually praising his stuff, Mock was giving skeptics fuel to doubt whether he would figure it out in the big leagues.

Fortunately for Mock, he has been given enough time to permit himself one more reinvention - one that finally might be working. The right-hander won for the second straight start Friday night, shutting out the Cincinnati Reds for six innings in a 2-0 victory by turning in the best start of his big league career.

It was all there: the varied repertoire that has led to 13 strikeouts in his past 12 innings, the sharp sinker the Reds could never quite handle and the resolve to get out of a couple of jams in the middle innings.

“He’s gotten a little better each time out,” interim manager Jim Riggleman said. “But today, I thought, was his best.”

Mock struck out six, parsing the plate with four sharp pitches that he was able to control relatively well through the early innings. But before Friday, Mock had allowed a .341 batting average this season to hitters he faced for the second time in a game. Hitters facing him for the third time had a .476 mark.

There’s little question the middle innings have been where Mock’s effectiveness has ebbed and eventually run out. It happened again Friday, but he showed enough gumption to fight through it this time.

Mock gave up three hits in the fifth, the first a bloop single that fell between Cristian Guzman and Nyjer Morgan. The final one was a Paul Janish drive to center field that wound up saving Mock’s shutout.

Morgan fielded the ball and gunned a throw home that hopped right to catcher Wil Nieves, who only had to hang on through a cursory attempt by Aaron Harang to jar the ball loose.

“You’re going to make mistakes out there, but you can’t let it get in your head mentally,” Morgan said. “I knew I messed up there, but I had to back up my guys.”

The sixth inning brought more harrowing moments - Mock gave up a two-out double to Laynce Nix, and Riggleman ran out to check on him. Mock, doggedly set on finishing the inning, consented to intentionally walking Jonny Gomes - who had hit three homers the night before - after some convincing from Riggleman. He made the situation worse by walking Adam Rosales and put himself in a full-count situation against catcher Craig Tatum with the Nationals up 1-0.

But with the Great American Ball Park crowd of 19,606 making as much noise as a half-empty stadium can muster, Mock induced an inning-ending popup.

“That last pitch was just a good, old-fashioned heater, right down the middle,” Mock said. “He’s going to beat me or I’m going to beat him. I’m glad it worked out.”

It also redeemed a Washington offense that has been struggling the entire road trip and got by Friday night only with a couple of solo homers from unlikely sources.

Ronnie Belliard blasted a 433-foot shot in the fifth inning, establishing the lead Mock scuffled to protect. Then Wil Nieves of all people punched a 358-foot shot to right field, a seventh-inning blast that had almost the same trajectory as the one other homer of his career - a walk-off shot against the Cubs last season.

“Most of the time, I’m going to keep the ball the other way,” Nieves said. “If I try to pull the ball, that’s when I get in trouble. Finally, I felt I’m back this game. Every hitter goes through slumps. Good hitters come out a little bit quicker than the other ones. I’ve been working at it, and it paid off.”

And it made the rest of the night a little easier after Mock showed he could sweat and survive.

“His pitch count was getting up there toward an area he hadn’t been too much,” Riggleman said. “Having been a reliever, I thought he sucked it up and gave us a great effort there. There’s nothing but good things there in the sixth for him.”

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