- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 20, 2009

The synthesis of what Washington Nationals manager Manny Acta said has shown up in flashes this season finally presented itself Thursday.

The Nationals had beaten the New York Yankees the night before in part because they managed to get through 27 outs without an error for just the third time in 11 games. But Thursday was different. Washington’s fielders weren’t just making solid plays - they were saving runs with defense.

In the 3-0 win against the Yankees on Thursday, the Nationals made a handful of plays that, either directly or indirectly, took runs off the board.

Whether it was Austin Kearns throwing out Nick Swisher at second base right before Hideki Matsui singled, Willie Harris robbing Alex Rodriguez of a hit right before back-to-back hits or Cristian Guzman taking away an RBI (or two) from Derek Jeter by ranging deep in the hole behind second, the Nationals probably made enough plays with their gloves to account for the difference between winning and losing.

“I don’t think it’s a secret that pitching and defense wins ballgames,” Acta said. “The fact is, we haven’t played good defense. It goes both ways. If you play good defense, it makes your pitching better. There are a thousand errors that don’t show up in the box score - fly balls that we don’t get to, fly balls that we don’t catch, ground balls we don’t get to. Fortunately, the last couple of days, we have been able to make the plays.”

Acta said after Thursday’s win that he had seen “flashes” of solid glovework. But it was so striking Thursday that it’s tough to remember anything like it being there at all.

Now the challenge is bringing it back to NL-only games. They only have two more interleague games in AL ballparks where they’ll be able to use a designated hitter, and they likely won’t trot out their outfield from Thursday - Harris, Corey Patterson and Kearns - again anytime soon.

The Nationals had Adam Dunn and Elijah Dukes back in their lineup Friday night, more for their offense than their defense. Without a designated hitter, that’s a tradeoff Washington has to make.

“You need to score runs to win ball games,” Acta said. “We haven’t been doing that as of late. Our offense is not the same we’ve had here the first month and a half or so ago here. That being said, we’re not going to sit Adam Dunn to have Willie Harris play left field. That’s not a part of the plan here.”

Willingham back Saturday

Acta said outfielder Josh Willingham, who has been on bereavement leave after the death of his brother Jon in a car crash last week, is slated to return to the team Saturday.

The Nationals will have to make a roster move to clear a spot for Willingham. They called up Corey Patterson from Class AAA Syracuse to take his spot last week.

Olsen getting close

Left-hander Scott Olsen was roughed up in his rehab start at Syracuse on Friday night, giving up five runs (four of them earned) on seven hits in 3 2/3 innings. Olsen walked three, gave up a homer and threw a wild pitch while striking out two. Fifty-one of his 83 pitches were strikes.

Olsen has been on the disabled list since May 18 with left shoulder tendinitis, and Acta said the Nationals would wait to get a report on his start before deciding if he’s ready to come off the DL.

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