- The Washington Times - Friday, October 2, 2009

ATLANTA | Good pitching performances are a terrible thing to waste. And the way Garrett Mock and Tyler Clippard pitched Thursday night at Turner Field, the Washington Nationals would have been kicking themselves had they not ultimately found a way to win.

It took the full nine innings to make it happen, but the Nationals finally produced enough offense to pull off a 2-1 victory over the Atlanta Braves and reward Mock (six innings of one-run ball) and Clippard (2 2/3 scoreless innings of relief) for their pitching efforts.

A leadoff double by Ryan Zimmerman and a subsequent RBI single by Pete Orr snapped a tie game in the ninth. Clippard, who threw 45 pitches to earn the win, nearly blew it by putting runners on the corners with two outs in the bottom of the inning. But Mike MacDougal closed the door, with a big assist from Zimmerman (who dove to his left to snag Omar Infante’s sharp grounder), and a suddenly red-hot Washington squad won its fourth straight game.

Runs have been few and far between for the Nationals for the last month. What had been one of the league’s more-potent lineups much of the summer has been rendered punchless. The Nationals have averaged only slightly more than three runs per game since late August, and while the loss of leadoff man Nyjer Morgan to a broken wrist has contributed greatly to that decline, so too have the prolonged slumps of Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham.

Willingham is batting a meager .149 while slugging an abysmal .271 since August 26 and has been held out of the lineup more frequently in recent weeks.

Dunn, meanwhile, has suddenly gone silent at the plate. With an 0-for-3 showing Thursday, he’s now hitless in his last 26 at-bats. That tepid stretch is threatening to damage what had been shaping up as a career year for the Nationals’ cleanup man; his average has plummeted from .280 to .266 in just over a week.

It’s too late for Mock to completely salvage what has been a difficult season. He entered Thursday’s game with a 3-10 record, a 5.91 ERA and five losses in his last six starts. But it wasn’t too late for the 26-year-old to leave his teammates and bosses with one positive impression heading into the winter, and the Nationals will remember this outing for the right reasons.

Unlike many of his previous 14 starts, Mock avoided the big, damaging inning that throws an entire ballgame off-kilter. He was in danger of such an inning twice, putting a combined six Braves on base between the second and the third frames. But he allowed only one run during that span, on a leadoff homer by Nate McLouth in the third. Otherwise, he avoided major damage, inducing three double-play grounders to help his cause.

In the end, Mock’s best start in nearly two months still wasn’t enough to earn himself the victory. Interim manager Jim Riggleman was forced to pinch-hit for his pitcher in the seventh with the game still knotted 1-1.

But for the enigmatic right-hander high on potential but short on results, this was if nothing else a strong finish to frustrating year and something positive to remember heading into 2010.

Notes — The Nationals have decided to let Ross Detwiler start Saturday, citing his strong arm and a desire to put their best option on the mound for a game that would have had playoff implications before the Braves were eliminated from the wild-card race earlier Thursday.

Detwiler has thrown a career-high 147 1/3 innings between the minors and majors, but team officials don’t believe one more outing will have an adverse physical effect. The 23-year-old hurler has made a strong impression since returning this month, posting a 2.41 ERA in four appearances.

“It’s been really interesting and really exciting to see since he’s come back from the minor leagues this month, how his composure has improved, his command has improved,” general manager Mike Rizzo said. “Just the whole package of what he brings on the mound has been good.” …

Because of a power outage to its on-site operations, MASN2 was forced to pick up the Braves’ SportSouth video feed of Thursday’s game. Bob Carpenter and Rob Dibble still were able to announce over the alternate feed.

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