- The Washington Times - Monday, May 15, 2006

ATLANTA — Tony Armas Jr., who had a fever and sore throat Saturday night, helped make the Washington Nationals feel a lot better yesterday.

After antibiotics helped him regain his strength yesterday morning, the right-hander pitched seven shutout innings to lead the Nationals to an 8-1 victory against the Atlanta Braves as Washington averted a three-game sweep.

Armas (4-2) limited the Braves to three hits, none of which came after the third inning. The Nationals (13-25), meanwhile, had 14 hits.

“Sometimes you’ve just got to pitch your game instead of giving them a pitch to hit or whatever,” said Armas, who has won four consecutive road starts. “My location was the main thing. My slider was going, my fastball was going.”

Armas, who has suffered shoulder problems for the better part of the last three seasons, has been the Nationals’ most reliable starter this season. The only thing wrong with yesterday’s near-masterpiece, which included six strikeouts, was his pitch total (119). Harmless singles by Jeff Francoeur, Braves starter John Thomson, and Edgar Renteria were the only hits he allowed.

“He’s just going about his job and seems to be getting better and better each time out,” Nationals manager Frank Robinson said. “He’s been pretty good from the beginning. I’ve seen him like this once before, [in 2003] when he hurt his arm, and get off to a start like this. He looks more comfortable out there right now with less effort.”

While Armas, who lowered his ERA to 3.02, set the tone with his pitching, it was a hustle play by Nick Johnson in the fifth inning that really got the Nationals going.

With two outs and Jose Vidro at first, Johnson hit a routine grounder to first baseman Adam LaRoche that should have ended the inning. But LaRoche appeared undecided whether to tag Johnson or step on the bag.

LaRoche, though, acted like he had everything under control. Until it turned into a foot race.

Johnson, who won’t be confused with Carl Lewis anytime soon, beat LaRoche in a dash to first. The play was close, and Braves manager Bobby Cox argued, leading to his ejection.

“He caught it, he turned, I thought he was going to come tag me, and he turned and I kept running,” Johnson said. “He was pretty close to the bag and I just took off running. I just play the game the way it’s supposed to be played and just run hard.”

The Nationals capitalized on the play with a five-run inning. Right fielder Jose Guillen, who snapped a 0-for-6 drought with runners in scoring position, doubled down the right-field line, scoring Vidro for a 2-0 lead. Ryan Church, who was using a pink Louisville Slugger honoring MLB’s Mother’s Day Breast Cancer Initiative, delivered a two-run single to right field that scored Guillen and Johnson for a 4-0 lead.

Rookie Ryan Zimmerman, who also used a pink bat, capped the inning with a line-drive single to left that scored Church to put the Nationals ahead 5-0.

The Nationals are off today, but resume their nine-game, three-city road trip tomorrow against the Chicago Cubs. Livan Hernandez will face Cubs right-hander Carlos Zambrano in the first game of a three-game series.

“We’re going to be happy going to the plane today,” Armas said. “It’s not like we got swept, that would have been a different story.”

Alfonso Soriano hit a solo home run in the third inning — his team-leading 12th — to give the Nationals a 1-0 lead.

He added a two-run single to right in the sixth inning that made it 7-0 and finished 3-for-5 with three RBI and two runs. Johnson singled Soriano home in the sixth.

“I’m trying to do the best I can to help my team win,” Soriano said.

Catcher Wiki Gonzalez, who was called up from Class AAA New Orleans before the game, went 3-for-5 with three singles and a run in his debut.

The Nationals lost the shutout in the ninth inning when reliever Felix Rodriguez gave up a solo homer to backup shortstop Wilson Betemit.

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

submit a question, go to the Sports Page

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