- The Washington Times - Friday, August 14, 2009

CINCINNATI | The two pillars upon which the Cincinnati Reds built one of the swiftest and most decisive wins anyone has scored over the Washington Nationals this season - Bronson Arroyo’s two-hit, 7-0 shutout and Jonny Gomes’ three home runs - seemed to be at opposite ends of the spectrum.

Arroyo, pitching the same day a USA Today story ran detailing his extensive use of supplements, some not approved by Major League Baseball, didn’t need much help to thoroughly control a listless Nationals offense Thursday. And Gomes made his mark simply by crushing pitches he should have crushed.

There was nothing fancy, and seemingly nothing connected, about the two. But there was a bridge between the Reds’ two pillars - struggling Nationals starter Collin Balester.

The 23-year-old right-hander, who began the year as one of Washington’s brightest pitching prospects, has struggled to maintain that status because of continued mistakes. And Gomes broke the game open because he couldn’t match Arroyo.

While the Reds starter was dealing, Balester continued to battle his growing problem with home runs. On Thursday night, they put the Nationals in a big enough hole to blot out whatever good work he did around them.

“I just kind of left some pitches up - those three pitches especially that they hit out of the park,” Balester said. “Besides the three pitches I gave up the home runs to, I felt like I’ve pitched the best I have [all year].”

It wasn’t as though Arroyo did anything particularly overwhelming; his fastball topped out at 91 mph. And he didn’t adhere to the most basic tenet of pitching efficiency - he threw first-pitch strikes to just 16 of 30 batters.

What Arroyo did have was a full complement of breaking pitches that, when combined with a fastball that he sometimes cut, kept the Nationals from ever solving him.

“It’s not an overpowering fastball,” first baseman Adam Dunn said. “It’s a good fastball when he’s throwing it for a strike. You’ve got to respect his off-speed stuff, because that’s what he lives on. But when he’s throwing that fastball up and in to keep you honest, he’s tough. He shut down a pretty good offense, I think.”

Washington had just two hits in the first seven innings - a pair of singles from Dunn and Ryan Zimmerman. Arroyo hit a batter and walked one in the third. That still wasn’t enough to spark a rally.

Arroyo got 13 groundouts, needed just 103 pitches to go the distance and allowed just one baserunner after the fourth.

“It seemed like we were hitting the ball off the end of the bat all day,” interim manager Jim Riggleman said. “That’s a testament to what he was able to do out there. We just couldn’t square him up.”

The Reds had no such problems with Balester.

He entered Thursday’s game having given up six home runs in four starts, including three in his last outing against the Diamondbacks.

In Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park, that’s a highly combustible tendency.

After battling Gomes for six pitches in the second inning, he grooved a fastball right down the middle at about the same height as one Gomes just fouled off.

The ball jumped off Gomes’ bat on an anticlimactic path to the upper deck, putting the Reds up 2-0.

Two batters later, Balester hung a curveball on the inner half of the plate to Ryan Hanigan, who hadn’t driven in a run since June 13. It didn’t matter. Hanigan clobbered it to left for a solo homer that put the Reds up 3-0.

After a quick third inning, Balester gave up a leadoff single to Laynce Nix, putting him on base for Gomes again.

Again, Balester threw a high fastball, and again, Gomes blasted it to left for a two-run homer.

“He’s pretty much throwing a four-seam fastball that’s going to straighten out,” Riggleman said. “If you’re going to throw four-seamers, you’ve got to locate them, because they’re not going to have much action on them.”

Gomes would strike one more time, blasting a Jason Bergmann fastball - which was high, but not as high as Bergmann was trying to throw it - 424 feet to center field. It was his third homer of the game, triggering multiple curtain calls from the crowd of 16,889.

He and Arroyo built the victory. The Nationals went looking for a way to pull themselves back up.

“Pitching controls the game,” Riggleman said. “Generally, whoever pitches better generally wins.”

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