- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 12, 2006

There was a time when Billy Traber was the best pitching prospect in the New York Mets’ system.

That, of course, was before the Mets’ 2000 first-round draft pick struggled in the minors, underwent Tommy John surgery on his left elbow, was traded to the Cleveland Indians and then picked up off the scrap heap by the Washington Nationals.

Traber took to the mound against his old team at RFK Stadium last night as an altogether different pitcher. The 26-year-old doesn’t have his old fastball anymore, so he has to rely on locating his pitches and putting the onus on the opposition to make contact.

Whether Traber realizes success with that philosophy and ultimately becomes a much-needed stabilizing force for Washington remains to be seen. But last night he tossed seven standout innings of four-hit ball to earn a 2-1 victory over a Mets franchise that has long since forgotten him.

The Nationals will gladly take him.

“He took me where I didn’t think he’d be able to take me tonight,” manager Frank Robinson said. “It was just a great effort on his part.”

Promoted from Class AAA New Orleans earlier in the week to fill the hole created by Livan Hernandez’s trade to Arizona and Mike O’Connor’s placement on the disabled list, Traber looked nothing like the left-hander who flamed out during an earlier stint with the Nationals this season.

In his last appearance, Traber was yanked out of the game by Robinson in the second inning of an April 25 loss to the Cincinnati Reds. He was sent back to the minors the next day and hadn’t been back since.

While in New Orleans, Traber tried to rediscover his form by returning to the plan that made him successful in the first place.

“Let them hit the ball,” he said. “I can’t really be scared of contact. That’s the only way I’m really going to go deep into a game. All I really want to do is chew up innings. I’m not going to be able to do that with guys on base.”

Only six Mets players reached base on Traber. And the only one who scored was Paul Lo Duca, who hit a solo homer to left in the first inning.

So when Robinson strolled to the mound one batter into the eighth inning to remove Traber, the circumstances were far different from that last start in Washington. This time, he got a pat on the back from his teammates and a standing ovation from the crowd of 29,414 as he sprinted off the field.

“This one was a lot better than the last one,” he said. “I’m pretty sure about that.”

The game was still in doubt when Traber (2-1) departed. Reliever Jon Rauch had to escape a dicey, second-and-third jam to preserve the one-run lead, getting Lo Duca to flail helplessly at a full-count, 91-mph fastball up and out of the strike zone to kill the rally.

Chad Cordero then pitched his way out of the ninth despite hitting Carlos Beltran in the wrist and walking Jose Valentin with two outs to earn his 21st save and give the Nationals — wearing throwback uniforms representing the Homestead Grays of the Negro Leagues — a chance to celebrate.

Traber was most responsible for making that happen, but he was aided by a Washington lineup that managed just enough offense to earn a rare victory over Tom Glavine.

The Nationals have traditionally had all kinds of trouble with Glavine (12-5) over the years, having previously beaten him only once in five tries since relocating from Montreal. Robinson has tried to pound a simple message into his players’ heads when facing the 40-year-old future Hall of Famer: Be patient with him. Take what he gives you.

Washington did just that last night, putting Glavine into a tough jam in the second with runners on second and third and one out. Up stepped Brian Schneider, the .228-hitting catcher, with a chance to come through in the clutch. He did, taking an 0-1 pitch from Glavine the other way for a two-run double down the left-field line.

“I understand that situation,” said Schneider, now the owner of a modest five-game hitting streak. “With a base open and the pitcher on deck, I knew they weren’t just going to give in … I was just trying to put the ball in play.”

Those were the only runs the Nationals managed against Glavine, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t successful against him. By the time Glavine left after the sixth inning, he had thrown a 123 pitches.

“The whole team, that was our goal,” Schneider said. “To work him and make him throw as many pitches as possible.”

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