- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 10, 2006

CINCINNATI — Keep those left-handers coming.

The Washington Nationals, paced by a season-high five home runs and a solid outing from right-hander Tony Armas Jr., dispatched yet another southpaw.

Jose Guillen hit two home runs, rookie Ryan Zimmerman, Matthew LeCroy and Alfonso Soriano each added solo shots and Armas pitched six strong innings as the Nationals beat the Reds 7-1 for their first victory against Cincinnati this season.

Three of the last four pitchers the Nationals have faced have been left-handers, and the Nationals have beaten all three. First was Pittsburgh’s Oliver Perez on Friday, then Pittsburgh’s Zach Duke on Sunday. Last night, the Nationals roughed up Brandon Claussen.

The Nationals pounded Claussen (2-4) for four runs on 11 hits. The last two times the Nationals (12-21) have faced Claussen, they lost both games, but Claussen was a victim of a blown save in one of those starts. In those two previous starts against the Nationals, Claussen had compiled an 1.54 ERA.

Soriano’s towering homer in the ninth inning — a 494-foot blast to straightaway center field off Reds reliever Brian Shackelford — instantly put him in Great American Ball Park lore. The 16,716 in attendance saw the fourth-longest home run in stadium history.

“I hit a long one in Toronto in the Blue Jays stadium,” Soriano said. “I think this is the longest one that I’ve hit.”

Added Nationals manager Frank Robinson: “Soriano could have hit his out of the Grand Canyon.”

Guillen’s first home run of the game led off the six inning, gave the Nationals a 3-0 lead and signaled that Claussen’s evening was coming to an end. Two batters later, LeCroy made it 4-0 with his first home run of the season into the left-field bleachers.

The last time the franchise hit five home runs in a game was July 3, 2000 at Atlanta. It was Guillen’s first multi-home run game of the season and the ninth of his career. In his last two games, Guillen has hit three home runs. He put the game away in the seventh inning with a two-run shot to right-center field, his fifth of the season, to make it 6-0. It allowed the Nationals to win back-to-back games for the first time since April 19-20 in Philadelphia.

“I’m hitting the ball more squarely right now and the whole thing is starting to come together,” said Guillen, who played for the Reds in 2002 and 2003. “People forget I’m coming from shoulder surgery and in spring training I was supposed to have surgery on my wrist, I was supposed to miss the whole season. People don’t realize what I’m going through this year. Right now, everything is coming in place and I’m swinging the bat much better.”

The Nationals scored their first run of the game without the benefit of a home run. Shortstop Royce Clayton, who went 3-for-4 with two doubles, scored the run on Marlon Byrd’s broken-bat single to left field in the third inning.

Zimmerman’s fifth home run of the season made it 2-0 with one out in the fourth inning when he hit a 408-foot homer to center field.

Cincinnati has dominated the Nationals the past two seasons. The Reds swept the Nationals in a three-game set at RFK Stadium two weeks ago. Since the start of the 2004 season, the franchise is just 3-12 against the Reds. Last season, the Nationals went 1-5 against Cincinnati.

Armas helped the Nationals secure a rare victory over the NL Central Division leaders with a much-needed strong performance. Armas atoned for his last outing — a 21/3-inning disaster in last Wednesday’s no-decision against the Florida Marlins at RFK Stadium — with easily his best game of the season.

His last poor start ended a string of four straight quality starts. So far this season, the right-hander has been the Nationals’ most reliable starter. After losing his first two starts this season, Armas has won three of his last five starts.

Armas (3-2) allowed just two hits over six innings. He struck out four and walked none. He also has been much better on the road than on East Capitol Street. He has a loss and two no-decisions in three starts at home, but has three wins in his last three road starts.

“I was able to put that last start behind and go and pitch a good game,” said Armas, who lowered his ERA to 3.58. “I’ve just had bad games at home. I’m feeling very positive. It doesn’t matter where the wins come as long as they come from either me or the team.”

It’s almost complete turnaround from his recent history having won just twice of his previous 17 road starts. With a starting pitching rotation in flux because of John Patterson’s forearm injury and the general ineffectiveness of the rest of the starting staff.

Armas tired in the seventh inning when Reds shortstop Felipe Lopez led off with a single to center. Armas then walked Adam Dunn, which could be considered a wise move, since Dunn is one of the league’s best power hitters. Armas then hit Edwin Encarnacion to load the bases and that was enough for Robinson.

“For six innings, he was lights out,” Robinson said. “Lights out. Unbelievable. Nice and easy out there. Mixed up his pitches in the zone. Located the ball very well and kept the hitters off-balance. This was his best outing here, but his other outings have not been bad at all, they’ve been good.”

The Reds (21-12) scored their only run in the seventh on Scott Hatteberg’s sacrifice fly to right field off reliever Joey Eischen, who relieved Armas. This is Armas first three-game winning streak since 2002, when he won four straight over five starts from Sept. 4 to 26, 2002.


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