- The Washington Times - Monday, April 18, 2005

Nothing came easy for Esteban Loaiza against the Arizona Diamondbacks yesterday.

The Washington Nationals right-hander kept falling behind hitters, particularly early, but refused to stop battling. Even though the Diamondbacks scuffed up Loaiza for three runs in the second inning and he wasn’t sharp, he managed to keep the Nationals in the game and did not surrender another run.

After all, that is Loaiza’s job: to keep it close. He allowed those three runs on eight hits and pitched into the seventh inning before giving way to the Nationals bullpen.

“I’m tired right now, especially since I never went 100 pitches in the whole of spring training,” said Loaiza, who threw 114. “It’s a good feeling. It gets me over the hump, and I’m waiting for my next outing against the Mets [on Friday]. Even though I didn’t have my good stuff, I stayed in the game and kept my team in the game.”

And that’s what the Nationals, seemingly prone to slow starts, need. For the second consecutive game, the Nationals broke the game open with a big seventh inning, this time scoring six runs to complete a three-game sweep.

Another strong effort by the bullpen helped Loaiza, who almost threw away the game with what turned out to be a bad choice in the seventh. With the Nationals trailing 3-1, Arizona’s Craig Counsell doubled to the gap in left-center. When Royce Clayton laid down a bunt in front of the mound, Loaiza went to third instead of first for the sure out, but Counsell beat the throw.

With runners on the corners and nobody out, Nationals manager Frank Robinson pulled Loaiza and brought on lefty Joe Horgan. Horgan got Luis Gonzalez to hit into a critical double play — shortstop Cristian Guzman held Counsell at third — and Loaiza basically was out of trouble.

“[The bullpen] didn’t bail him out,” Horgan said. “He pitched a huge game. He scattered some hits and got out of close stuff like that himself, and there comes a time when everyone, no matter who it is, gets into situations where they need other people to help them like he helped himself the first six innings getting out of some jams and pitching really good. We tried to match what he did and help the team win.”

Loaiza, whom the Nationals signed to a one-year, $2.9million deal on Jan.19, struck out a season-high seven batters. The 2003 Cy Young Award runner-up has pitched 192/3 innings this season but hasn’t gotten a decision. He has a 4.58 ERA and 14 strikeouts.

“Loaiza was good,” Robinson said. “In the inning they scored, I think he broke about three bats. Out of the eight hits they got, I think they only hit one good and solid. He was OK. He was good. I’ll take that, six innings and three runs. I’ll take that. And the bullpen stepped up today.”

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