- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 9, 2006

Washington Nationals right-hander Pedro Astacio, who pitched for the San Diego Padres last season when they swept a three-game series at RFK Stadium, couldn’t keep the Padres from staying perfect in the nation’s capital last night.

Padres starter Chris Young outpitched Astacio and the Nationals in a 5-2 victory before 27,060, including President Bush and Laura Bush, who unexpectedly dropped by for the first time this season, accompanied by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. It was the third game President Bush has attended — and the first loss he has witnessed — and the first for the first lady since baseball returned to the District last year.

Young (8-4) allowed two runs on seven hits and no walks in six innings. He struck out nine Nationals (38-51), his second-highest total of the season. In his last eight starts, the 6-foot-10 right-hander is 5-1 with a 1.75 ERA. The Padres (47-40) are now 5-0 at RFK since the Nationals moved from Montreal.

“He has a sneaky fastball, changeup and a very good curveball,” Nationals manager Frank Robinson said. “He moved the ball around in the strike zone, up, down, in and out with his fastball and mixed in breaking balls.”

In 2003, Young was a member of the Montreal Expos organization. The former Princeton basketball player advanced that season to Class AA Harrisburg from Class A Brevard County.

“I don’t remember facing him or seeing him around,” said second baseman Jose Vidro, the franchise’s longest-tenured player. “I heard he was with us. It’s another player that left us I guess.”

As for Astacio (1-1), the long ball was his downfall last night. He gave up three homers in his 32/3 innings, accounting for four of the five runs he allowed to the National League West-leading Padres.

Mike Cameron hit his 10th homer of the season in the first inning, blasting Astacio’s fastball off the clock beyond the center-field fence — well more than 400 feet away.

The Padres knocked Astacio out of the game in the fourth. San Diego first baseman Adrian Gonzalez hit his second home run in as many nights and 13th of the season — a towering home run to right field for a 2-1 San Diego lead.

After shortstop Khalil Greene singled following Gonzalez’s home run, Mark Bellhorn delivered his seventh home run of the season for a 4-1 lead.

The Padres added their fourth run of the inning on Dave Roberts’ sacrifice fly to center. Astacio gave up five runs on nine hits.

“I left a couple pitches on top of the plate,” Astacio said.

Coming in, Astacio had not allowed more than two runs in any of his last eight starts. Granted, those starts spanned 1 seasons, including a win in Washington last season. The Nationals signed Astacio to a free agent deal during the offseason soon after Brian Lawrence, acquired in a trade from the Padres, blew out his rotator cuff in spring training.

The Nationals signed Astacio to a one-year, $1 million deal March 2. Astacio arrived to camp late and was unimpressive most of the spring. On April 1, in the final exhibition game of the season against the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards, Astacio pulled himself from the game before the third inning because of right forearm tightness. That problem turned into a three-month absence from the Nationals for Astacio.

When he finally made his season debut on Monday against the Florida Marlins, the 36-year-old looked good. In the Nationals’ 9-1 win, Astacio allowed just one run on three hits in five innings.

Astacio’s counterpart last night allowed a homer on his first pitch of the game. Alfonso Soriano’s blast off Young was his third leadoff home run of the season and 27th overall.

“When I tied the game at 1-1, I thought it was going to be a good night for us,” Soriano said. “Chris Young is a very strong guy and pitched a very good game. It’s hard to see the ball.”

Soriano, who was voted by fans and players to start in the National League’s outfield in Tuesday’s All-Star Game, produced the 26th leadoff home run of his career and the second of this 10-game homestand. Soriano also homered to Monday to lead off.

Soriano is the Nationals’ lone All-Star this season.

Several of the Padres pitchers, including ace Jake Peavy and closer Trevor Hoffman, thought Young should have been named to the NL’s All-Star team. Young was the NL pitcher of the month for June, going 3-0 with a 1.17 ERA in five starts (302/3 innings) with 34 strikeouts.

Young was one of five finalists for the final spot on the NL All-Star team that went to Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman Nomar Garciaparra by a fans vote on the Internet.

The Nationals produced their second run of the game in the seventh when center fielder Alex Escobar doubled to center and then scored on Royce Clayton’s RBI single to make it 5-2.

Got a question about the Nats? Mark Zuckerman has the answers. To submit a question, go to the Sports Page.

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