- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 9, 2009

Even in winning each of their previous six games, the Washington Nationals had admittedly not played perfect baseball. Too often they forced themselves to dig out of big holes or got poor starting pitching or beat up on a weak opponent.

But consecutive victory No. 7 – a 5-2 triumph over the Arizona Diamondbacks Saturday night — may have been as impressive a ballgame as theyve played all season.

This one had it all. Garrett Mock turned in a quality start for the first time. The bullpen gave the Diamondbacks no sliver of hope of a comeback. And an opportunistic lineup continued to mash the ball all around Nationals Park, this time against one of the top pitchers in baseball.

Yes, the most-impressive aspect of Saturdays win surely was the manner in which Washington pounded Arizonas Dan Haren for five runs in six innings. The Cy Young Award contender was victimized by just about everyone in the lineup and served up homers to both Josh Willingham and Josh Bard, the two biggest blows that brought a roar from the crowd of 24,551.

The Nationals, who have been stuck on 72 losses since Aug. 1, had beaten up on plenty of lesser pitchers over the last week. This, though, was the first legitimate ace theyve beaten all season.

Willinghams two-run blast in the fourth (his 18th of the year) and Bards solo shot in the sixth (his second) were the highlights against Haren, but all of Washingtons top seven batters recorded a hit. And even No. 8 hitter Alberto Gonzalez drove in a run with a sacrifice fly.

If there has been one facet of the Nationals game not up to par during the winning streak, it has actually been a starting rotation that has received loads of praise all season. This stretch, though, has seen several Washington starters struggle to make it through even five innings, forcing a resurgent bullpen to pick up the slack.

Mock, then, faced a stiff challenge when he took the mound Saturday. The 26-year-old right-hander not only needed to give his team a boost, he needed to give himself a boost after a ragged few weeks back in the majors.

Bounced back and forth between Washington and Class AAA the last two seasons, from the rotation to the bullpen and back to the rotation, Mock still hadnt provided evidence he could be a successful big league starter. But with six strong innings against the Diamondbacks — the club that traded him and Matt Chico for Livan Hernandez three years ago — he at last looked the part.

Mocks lone mistake, really, was a 3-2 fastball to Mark Reynolds in the fourth. The Arizona slugger lofted it down the left-field line and off the foul pole for a two-run homer, his 35th of the season (one shy of Alberto Pujols for the major league lead).

Otherwise, the right-hander was firmly in control. He scattered five hits and three walks over his six innings, struck out seven and — most importantly — gave his team a chance to win.

Thats not something Mock has been able to say in the past. In seven previous career starting assignments, he had yet to be credited with a quality start. Having finally cleared that hurdle Saturday, he was free to reap the rewards of only his second career win.

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