- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 7, 2008

— The Nationals’ 6-3 win over the Colorado Rockies in the first game of Thursday’s doubleheader was a technical victory of sorts.

For a pitcher who’d been trying to coax more life out of his mechanics for the last month and an outfielder still growing as a hitter, it brought confirmation that their adjustments have them on the right track.

Jason Bergmann pitched seven strong innings and Lastings Milledge hit two home runs in the win, the Nationals’ fifth in sixth games. It ensured them of at least a split in a ballpark where they hadn’t won since Aug. 14, 2005, before this week.

It was Milledge’s first two-homer game since last September, and his four RBI tied a career high.

Milledge’s first homer cleared the left-field bleachers and landed on the walkway behind the seats. After working Jeff Francis to a 3-0 count, he took a called strike on a fastball, fouled off another one and turned on the third straight fastball Francis threw him.

The 23-year-old has sometimes been guilty of being overly aggressive, but has homered four times in the last six games. All four of them came with Milledge ahead in the count.

“That’s how the power comes,” manager Manny Acta said. “It’s a matter of working the count, getting yourself in a hitter’s count and being able to zero in on the pitch you want. They’re young, so sometimes they’re going to chase pitches out of the zone, and we’ve got to keep preaching that.”

The Nationals scored two more runs in the inning, getting a single from Ronnie Belliard, a double from Willie Harris, a groundout from Jason Bergmann that moved Harris to third and a triple from Emilio Bonifacio.

But they weren’t done.

They hung another two runs on Francis in the sixth inning, again courtesy of a Milledge homer. That at-bat was constructed much in the same manner; Milledge waited out two off-speed pitches from Francis, and when the left-hander was forced to come over the middle with a fastball, Milledge again dropped it over the left-field wall.

It was more than enough to get Bergmann his first win since May 15, when he threw seven shutout innings against the Mets after being recalled from Class AAA Columbus. The outing might have also been Bergmann’s best start since May. He shut out the Rockies for seven innings before giving up a leadoff homer to Matt Holliday in the eighth, striking out seven and walking just two. A fly ball pitcher, Bergmann got 10 of the other 14 outs he recorded on flyouts.

Bergmann had reached the seventh inning just once the start of July, going 0-3 with a 4.50 ERA in that time. The problem, he said, is a familiar one for him; his front side had been flying open when he delivered, instead of his lead shoulder staying square to the plate.

That’s caused his fastball to tail off unexpectedly and robbed his breaking pitches of movement.

On Thursday, he harped on the mechanics, and produced a smooth victory.

“That’s been my biggest problem my whole career, back to high school,” Bergmann said. “Pitching is so fast when you’re out there. You can’t just break it down piece by piece. There’s really no formula for doing it. You just have to do it.”

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