- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 23, 2006

The struggling Nationals reopened RFK Stadium in style this weekend.

An injured outfielder who can barely run hit a two-run pinch-hit homer yesterday, and the team’s starting pitcher snapped a 13-game winless streak by the starting rotation.

The newest Nationals, shortstop Felipe Lopez and outfielder Austin Kearns, began to pay dividends in their new home, and All-Star outfielder Alfonso Soriano had another strong offensive performance nine days before the trading deadline.

All of it added up to a 7-3 win over the Chicago Cubs in front of 38,021, the first time since July 4 the Nationals won back-to-back games.

“Two wins is two wins and it feels good to win,” Nationals manager Frank Robinson said. “It’s much better than losing.”

Starter Livan Hernandez allowed three runs in six innings, securing his team-high seventh win of the season and giving the Nationals (42-56) a chance today to sweep an opponent at home for the first time this season.

Tony Armas (6-5, 4.61 ERA) faces Cubs rookie right-hander Carlos Marmol (3-3, 3.86) in today’s series finale.

Yesterday’s win was assured by outfielder Alex Escobar, who strained his hamstring on Friday and told Robinson before the game he could hit, but not run.

Hit he did.

Batting for Hernandez in the sixth inning, Escobar hit his second career pinch-hit home run — five days after his first. This time, it was a two-run blast off reliever Will Ohman to left-center field for a 6-3 lead.

Escobar, who limped noticeably during his home run trot, is hitting .429 with three home runs and 12 RBI.

“[Robinson] asked me if I was ready to play and I said yes and I was ready for it,” Escobar said. “All I know is that it feels good, even though you’re not 100 percent, to be able to go out there and help the team win.”

Hernandez, meanwhile, overcame a rocky first inning to become the first Nationals starter to win a game since Pedro Astacio beat Florida on July 3. After a two-run first inning, the right-hander held the Cubs (37-59) to one run in five more innings. He allowed seven hits and walked two while striking out five.

But Hernandez struggled against Cubs slugger Aramis Ramirez, who hit a solo home run into the mezzanine in left field to give Chicago a 1-0 lead in the first inning. Ramirez added another solo homer off Hernandez in the fifth, his second straight multi-homer game. In the past two games, Ramirez is 5-for-8 with four homers and five RBI.

“Two [darn] balls hanging — everybody knows Ramirez, you hang something in the sun, he’s going to get you,” Hernandez said. “I tried to throw the pitch and nothing happened. He’s a power hitter.”

Kearns cut the lead to 2-1 with a home run to left to start the second, his first with the Nationals and 17th of the season. Kearns, who was acquired along with Lopez in a July 31 trade with Cincinnati, is one homer shy of his career high.

Lopez went 2-for-4 with a double, one RBI and a run.

Soriano had the biggest day, though, finishing 4-for-5 with three doubles, a triple, one RBI and two runs. But he was thrown out twice at the plate — trying to score on a comebacker to the mound in the first and on short fly ball to right field in the third.

“I was being too aggressive with my legs today,” Soriano said.

Soriano is the No. 1 subject heading into the last week before the trading deadline, but many of his teammates would like for him to stay with the Nationals.

“You definitely don’t want to play against him,” third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “I think everyone here, the fans and everyone in the clubhouse loves him on this team. It will be interesting to see what they do because he really wants to stay and everyone here gets along with him and he’s great for the team and he’s great for city. He could be a big part of this team for a long time.”

Got a question about the Nats? Mark Zuckerman has the answers. To

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