- The Washington Times - Friday, June 1, 2007

They insisted all along that the previous two nights were aberrations, a simple product of two of baseball’s best pitchers dominating them and not a warning sign of danger ahead.

The Washington Nationals were right. With Brad Penny and Derek Lowe sitting comfortably in the visitors’ dugout at RFK Stadium and the less-accomplished Mark Hendrickson on the mound last night for the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Nationals rediscovered their old formula for success and walked away with a thoroughly impressive 11-4 victory before a crowd of 20,982.

On the heels of back-to-back shutouts at the hands of Penny, Lowe and the Dodgers’ bullpen, Washington overpowered Hendrickson, riding a four-hit performance from red-hot Dmitri Young, three hits from Cristian Guzman and four RBI from Ryan Zimmerman to match the club’s biggest offensive output in two-plus years at RFK Stadium.

“We weren’t down,” Young said of the clubhouse vibe after a 19-inning scoring drought. “They could have done that against any team. They just did that against us. We can’t hold our heads low because they did that against us.”

They didn’t. Zimmerman’s two-run homer in the first gave the Nationals an early lead, and converted reliever Micah Bowie used that cushion to spur himself to an effective, 51/3-inning outing and earn his second straight win as a starter.

An impressive eighth-inning performance from Jon Rauch (who hadn’t pitched in a week) coupled with a late five-run explosion off Dodgers setup man Jonathan Broxton allowed Washington (22-32) to salvage one win in this series against the National League West leaders.

“It was just nice to get on the board first,” Zimmerman said. “We faced two good pitchers, Penny and Lowe, and just to be able to score first and put the pressure on them felt better than anything else.”

The two early runs were nice, but the Nationals didn’t rest. Instead, they kept the pressure on all night, manufacturing a run in the third, then taking advantage of some shoddy defense to add three more in the fifth.

That rally began with an RBI single from Young, just one of the 21 hits he has racked up over his last 39 at-bats, a stretch that has solidified his status as the club’s best offensive player (and made him all the more attractive to potential trade partners).

“I don’t like talking about hitting like that,” the superstitious first baseman said. “Hitting’s contagious, and when we all hit like that, we’re going to score runs.”

It also helped when Los Angeles reliever Yhency Brazoban, who entered following Young’s single, uncorked a wild throw on Austin Kearns’ comebacker for a costly two-base error that allowed the inning to continue.

Two batters later, Brian Schneider battled through a seven-pitch at-bat (fouling off two straight two-strike offerings) before hitting a sharp grounder through the right side of the infield for a big two-run single.

That was plenty of support for Bowie, who was sharp in his third start since his conversion from the bullpen. The left-hander made only one real mistake: a 1-0 fastball to Russell Martin in the second that was clubbed over the center-field fence for a solo homer.

Otherwise, Bowie (2-2) was mostly untouchable and highly efficient. He made it through the fifth inning having thrown only 57 pitches, so Acta had no reservations sending him back out for the sixth.

Bowie hadn’t gone more than five innings in a major league game since Sept. 18, 1999, and he has never gone more than six, but he’s slowly growing into this new role and knows he can continue to thrive if he pitches economically like he did last night.

“Most definitely,” he said. “The fewer pitches you can throw early, the fresher you are late, the deeper that’s going to help you get through the game. When you can get some quick outs, it definitely gives your team a better chance later.”

Bowie wound up getting pulled after putting a couple of men on base in the sixth. Saul Rivera allowed both runners to score, so Bowie wound up getting charged with three runs but remained in line for the win.

Rauch helped ensure he would get it. With the game still in doubt in the eighth — Washington led 6-4 at the time — the right-hander emerged from the bullpen for the first time in a week. He had been scored upon in each of his last four outings but has been working with pitching coach Randy St. Claire on his mechanics and reaped the rewards last night. With Martin at the plate representing the tying run, Rauch blew away the Dodgers catcher on a 94 mph fastball on the outside corner.

“Very important because he needs it for his confidence,” Acta said. “He’s our guy in the eighth inning. There’s never been a doubt. He needed that just to snap out of that little funk he was in.”

Given the way the Nationals broke out of their minislump, the manager could have been speaking about his entire team.

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