- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 8, 2007

John Patterson’s second start of the season was better than his first, but it wasn’t good enough to beat the reigning National League Cy Young award winner.

While Patterson and the Washington Nationals fell behind early, Arizona’s Brandon Webb certainly looked like the NL’s best pitcher as he controlled the Nationals over seven innings to lead the Diamondbacks to a second straight 7-1 win before 16,617 at RFK Stadium.

A long first inning is what Patterson wanted to avoid. Instead, it took the Nationals’ No. 1 starter 31 pitches to get his team off the field in the first inning. The right-hander walked two of the first three batters he faced, then served up a two-run double to Chad Tracy that found the gap in left for a 2-0 Arizona lead. The Diamondbacks tagged on a third run off Patterson in the inning on a sacrifice fly by Tony Clark to deep center to make it 3-0.

“Obviously, you don’t want to be in that situation,” Nationals right fielder Austin Kearns said. “You can’t sit here and say, ‘We’re in a hole.’ You take that approach, things get worse before they get better. That’s the last thing that you need to be thinking.”

Starting the season 0-2 is something else Patterson wanted to avoid. But the Nationals’ Opening Day starter did just that, allowing three runs on four hits in five innings. Patterson also walked four batters and struck out two but still watched his earned run average fall to 9.35. Of his 88 pitches, 44 went for strikes.

“I just didn’t have good command, didn’t have a good feel, and I got some balls up,” Patterson said. “I was missing up. I was either missing down in the dirt or missing up. I couldn’t really find that release point and keep the ball in the strike zone.”

After six games this season, the Nationals — losers in all but one game — have been outscored 42-17. The only time Washington has led in a game this season is when it rallied in the bottom of the ninth inning in Wednesday’s 7-6 win over the Florida Marlins.

“Hey, two years ago with the New York Mets, we started 0-5,” Nationals manager Manny Acta said. “It’s not going to be an easy month. I’ve been saying all along I’m very positive and upbeat and all that, but I have never said it’s going to be easy. Especially this month. We play nothing but our division, tough clubs. We’ve got to keep on working. We can’t push the panic button in the sixth game.”

Washington will try to avoid a four-game sweep today in the series finale when right-hander Shawn Hill (0-1, 3.60 ERA) faces ex-Nationals ace Livan Hernandez (0-0, 2.57).

The Nationals avoided getting shut out on a controversial home run by Kearns to left field off Webb in the sixth inning. Kearns’ first home run of the season also delivered his 300th career RBI. Trailing 6-0, Kearns hooked a pitch from Webb down the left-field line.

The deeper Kearns’ ball went the more it started curling toward foul territory. At first, it appeared the Kearns’ fly ball struck the left-field foul pole for a home run. However, television replays showed that Kearns’ ball landed in foul territory and hit a support arm that connects the foul pole to the stadium, not the foul pole.

Despite protests from Diamondbacks left fielder Scott Hairston and select members of Arizona’s bullpen, the umpires did not overturn their original call.

Regardless, Webb (1-0) didn’t need any help from the umpires. Webb, who was tied for the NL lead with 16 wins last season, pitched last night’s game bare-armed in freezing temperatures, but the cold hardly affected his performance. He allowed just one run over seven innings. Webb also scattered seven hits and struck out eight.

Nationals reliever Jesus Colome looked overwhelmed in the sixth inning in relief of Patterson. The promising reliever who had tossed five scoreless innings in three appearances this season allowed three runs on three hits.

Nationals closer Chad Cordero, who has not had a save opportunity so far this season, gave up a solo home run to Eric Byrnes to lead off the ninth that extended Arizona’s lead to 7-1.

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