- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 1, 2008

PHOENIX - Manny Acta could have tried to find fault with his hitters’ approach against Brandon Webb last night, could have tried to place the blame for the Washington Nationals‘ 4-0 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks on a lack of execution or an inability to make the opposing pitcher work deep into the count.

In the end, though, neither Acta nor his players could really be critical of themselves after falling victim to one of the best pitchers in baseball.

“I mean, this guy, it’s not only against us,” Acta said. “That’s why he won the Cy Young Award. That’s why he’s so tough. We’re just one more team that falls in front of him. There’s nothing new. You’ve just got to give him credit.”

Webb gave up six singles in nine innings to become the majors’ first 10-game winner, outduel Washington’s Jason Bergmann and dispose of the Nationals in an one-hour, 52-minute game that included zero walks.

Washington (24-33) was helpless against Webb and his sinker. The 29-year-old right-hander worked fast, threw a ton of strikes and made the Nationals’ already-tepid lineup look even meeker.

“He’s one of the best, period,” first baseman Dmitri Young said. “Just one of the best.”

And the best was simply too much for Bergmann to overcome, despite his best efforts. The Washington right-hander carried a 19 2/3-inning scoreless streak into last night’s start, but that prolonged run of excellence ended with a bang. Arizona third baseman Mark Reynolds hit a first-pitch fastball from Bergmann in the second inning 459 feet to left-center field to put the Diamondbacks ahead 1-0.

That would have been enough offense on this night, but Arizona added three more solo homers against Bergmann, with Justin Upton and Reynolds going back-to-back in the seventh and Chris Young adding another in the eighth.

Those were, however, the only mistakes Bergmann (1-2) made en route to the first career complete game and the first by a Nationals pitcher since Pedro Astacio shut out the Atlanta Braves on Aug. 15, 2006 - the longest drought for any team in the big leagues.

“I’m very happy with my outing, aside from the four home runs,” Bergmann said. “I think all four of them were the exact four pitches I would take back.”

As dominating as Bergmann has been since his return from the minors three weeks ago, he has little to show for it because his teammates have provided little offensive support. Bergmann allowed four runs over four starts in May. The Nationals scored four runs in return.

In their defense, the Nationals have faced some of the best pitchers the league has to offer against Bergmann, including Philadelphia’s Cole Hamels, Milwaukee’s Ben Sheets and New York’s Mike Pelfrey (who carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning on May 15 at Shea Stadium).

Webb is better than all of them. Few NL pitchers boast Webb’s pedigree, which includes the 2006 NL Cy Young Award and nine wins in his first nine starts this year.

Webb (10-2), who had lost his last two starts, retired the side in the first inning on seven pitches, all strikes. The Nationals never threatened to score.

Worse, they went to the plate hacking, choosing to go after Webb’s first pitch rather than taking their chances watching a few pitches, then battling from behind in the count.

“You just couldn’t [be patient], because he was throwing the first-pitch strike anyway,” Acta said. “If you didn’t swing and hit it, he threw it for a strike. And then you’re in worse shape if you’re behind in the count, with the assortment of pitches he has.”

The swing-early approach, though, allowed Webb to keep his pitch count low. Webb finished with just 113 pitches.

“We all knew before the game even started that he doesn’t give up any runs,” center fielder Lastings Milledge said. “You kind of take it for what it is. We battled. We did what you try to do to win a ballgame, but unfortunately he was effective tonight.”


PHOENIX - It’s always nice when ballparks open their gates early enough for fans to watch the home team take batting practice, something the Nationals began doing this season. Of course, doing so also opens the door to the kind of fans who want to show up 2 1/2 hours before every single game.

Like the woman standing behind the Diamondbacks’ dugout before each of the first two games of this series. Obviously a devoted Diamondbacks fan, she makes a point to clap for each well-struck ball and each player as they depart the cage.

That’s nice and all, but really, does Augie Ojeda need encouragement every time he makes solid contact with a 60 mph fastball?



“I’m by far not a home run hitter.”

- Diminutive utilityman Willie Harris, who has two homers this season but only nine in a career of 1,307 at-bats


Nationals RHP Shawn Hill 0-1, 4.02

Diamondbacks RHP Dan Haren 5-4, 3.75

4:10 p.m. MASN2

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