- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 2, 2007

For most of his major league career, Ronnie Belliard could count on playing nearly every day, getting more than 400 at-bats a season and rarely spending a game’s middle innings limbering up in the dugout tunnel.

But with new scenery comes a new role and for Belliard, the first-year Washington Nationals’ utility infielder, that has meant games where he gets one chance — tops — to make an impact.

Last night at RFK Stadium, Belliard’s lone opportunity came in the 10th inning of a tie game and he delivered with an infield single to give the Nationals a 4-3 victory over the San Diego Padres, re-affirming the faith manager Manny Acta had in Belliard when the team signed him in February.

“It gives me so much comfort to know that I have a guy like him,” Acta said after the Nationals (23-32) won for the 14th time in 21 games. “I could throw him in there at second base every day, at shortstop every day, at third base every day. He’s an everyday player and a luxury for our club.”

Belliard was an everyday player for the Nationals when shortstop Cristian Guzman was injured. But since May 12, Belliard has played in 13 games and had one at-bat in eight of those appearances.

Guzman started the winning rally. After his fourth hit of the game (raising his average to .316), he moved to third on Ryan Zimmerman’s single to right and scored when Belliard hit a grounder that second baseman Marcus Giles gloved near the outfield grass but had no play on.

“I didn’t think they were going to pitch to me,” said Belliard, who has seven hits in his last 10 at-bats. “Maybe they figured I was coming off the bench and wasn’t ready. … I’m always swinging the bat and ready for anything. I know Manny uses me in those types of situations so I was ready.”

Early in the game, it didn’t appear any late heroics would be needed after the Nationals jumped to leads of 2-0 and 3-1 on San Diego ace Jake Peavy. He entered the game with the lowest earned run average in the majors (1.47) and a 7-1 record, the lone loss coming against the Nationals on April 30.

Last night Washington tagged Peavy for 10 hits over seven innings. Zimmerman and Dmitri Young had run-scoring hits in the first inning, and Young drove Guzman in two innings later.

Young continued his torrid streak with a 4-for-4 night. He is on a 23-for-41 tear (.561) and his eight consecutive hits are tied for the franchise record with Andre Dawson.

“He’s locked in — you can tell by the way he’s taking pitches,” Acta said. “He’s hitting everybody — left-handers, right-handers, hard throwers, soft tossers. He’s always been a good hitter, but right now he’s in the zone.”

After the third inning, the Nationals could do nothing else against Peavy. Washington left three runners in scoring position through seven innings.

Nationals starter Matt Chico held the lead until the sixth. Chico departed with one out after giving up two doubles and a walk. Winston Abreu entered and appeared to be out of the jam when Terrmel Sledge hit a grounder toward second baseman Felipe Lopez. But the ball hit umpire Bob Davidson and bounded into right field, allowing Bard to score.

“I just said, ‘Why us Lord?’ ” Acta said. “But it’s not like Bob did it on purpose, he just couldn’t get out of the way. Felipe told me after the game he was very confident he was going to get it.”

Four Nationals relievers allowed no runs and four hits in 42/3 innings of work including Jon Rauch (3-1), who earned the win by pitching a scoreless 10th inning.

That set up the big plays by Guzman, Zimmerman and Belliard.

The last three seasons, Belliard had averaged 148 games and 560 at-bats, but he knew exactly what his role would be when he signed with the Nationals.

“We told him it would be tough for him to not be an everyday player,” Acta said. “But he’s done a tremendous job.”

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