- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Washington Nationals wanted to see what they had in Beltran Perez. The rookie right-hander certainly gave them an eyeful.

Perez pitched six shutout innings, giving up just one hit, and Nick Johnson and Jose Vidro each homered as the Nationals beat the Atlanta Braves 9-2 last night at RFK Stadium.

Perez (1-0, 0.77 ERA), who was called up from Class AA Harrisburg on Sept. 2, walked none and struck out three, retiring the last 16 batters he faced in the exploratory start.

“I just wanted to pitch inning by inning, hitter by hitter, and to see how long it goes,” Perez said through translator Javier Castro. “I wanted to pitch nine innings.”

The only baserunner the 24-year-old Dominican allowed was Chipper Jones, who singled to right field in the first inning.

Manager Frank Robinson said his staff would keep Perez on a pitch count. But after watching Perez mow down the Braves lineup on 70 pitches in six innings, why did Robinson yank his young pitcher?

“So what. When was the last time he pitched six innings?” Robinson said.

It was Aug. 13 at Reading. But the Nationals (66-85) had used Perez only as a reliever. In 52/3 innings out of the bullpen, Perez has given up just one run. At Harrisburg, Perez was 8-6 with a 3.11 ERA in 16 starts this season.

“I wanted to stay in the game because I didn’t have a lot of pitches,” Perez said. “It was the manager’s [decision]. I don’t know what happened.”

Johnson, who went 2-for-4 with three runs, celebrated his 28th birthday in style. He hit his 23rd home run of the season — this one to right-center field — off Braves starter Chuck James (10-4) to give the Nationals a 1-0 lead in the second inning.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Johnson became the first Nationals player to homer on his birthday and just the eighth in franchise history.

“It felt good,” Johnson said of the home run. “But it was better to get that win.”

Johnson was also involved in the Nationals’ two-run third inning, when he singled to right, moving Ryan Zimmerman to second base. Austin Kearns followed with an RBI double. After James intentionally walked Jose Vidro to load the bases, backup catcher Brandon Harper hit a sacrifice fly to right.

That put the Nationals up 3-0, which would be all the runs the Nationals needed.

It was a good thing the middle of the order carried the Nationals because James struck out leadoff man Alfonso Soriano and No. 2 hitter Felipe Lopez three times each.

Zimmerman, who sat out of Monday’s game, went 2-for-5 with his 98th RBI of the season, when he doubled in the sixth to score pinch-hitter George Lombard and give the Nationals a 6-0 lead. Kearns went 2-for-4 with one RBI and a run. Soriano did strike in the three-run seventh inning, hitting his 39th double of the season to score Kearns and Harper.

Note — The Nationals are in the process of moving several of their minor league affiliates closer to the District.

Yesterday, the Nationals signed a four-year extension with high Class A Potomac, which plays in Woodbridge. The Nationals are expected to switch their low Class A affiliate from Savannah, Ga., to the Hagerstown (Md.) Suns of the South Atlantic League.

Also, the Virginian-Pilot newspaper reported that the Nationals and the Baltimore Orioles are vying to have Norfolk as an affiliate. The New York Mets ended their 38-year relationship with the Tides this summer.

The Nationals’ two-year “player development contract” with the Class AAA New Orleans Zephyrs expired at the end of the Zephyrs season. Three Class AAA franchises — Columbus, Ohio, New Orleans, and Norfolk — have expired contracts and will compete for the Nationals, Orioles, and Mets. The Nationals have until Sept. 30 to reach an agreement with someone. If no contract has been signed by the end of the month, Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig can intervene and assign the Nationals to a city, but that is an unlikely scenario.



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