ATLANTA | Derek Lowe decided it was time for a new plan against Washington, so he asked Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell for help.
With his “cheat sheet” from McDowell sitting in his locker, Lowe set a career high with 12 strikeouts and combined with Billy Wagner on a six-hitter to lead Atlanta past the Nationals 4-0 on Monday night.
Entering the game, Lowe was 1-6 with a 5.44 ERA in nine starts for Atlanta against Washington in 2009 and 2010, according to STATS LLC.
He said he went to McDowell on Monday and said, “I need help.”
“I give Roger every bit of credit for the game,” Lowe said. “I hadn’t beaten this team in about three years.”
After conferring with McDowell, Lowe went over the plan with catcher Brian McCann.
Known for his sinker and ability to produce ground balls, Lowe said his plan was, “Just try different things, use more pitches and try not to throw certain pitches to certain guys.”
It worked. The Braves remained one game behind first-place Philadelphia in the NL East. The Phillies beat Florida 11-4.
Lowe (13-12) was 0-3 with a 6.11 ERA in his first three starts against Washington this season before delivering an impressive win marked by two personal milestones.
He earned an ovation from the small crowd of 18,647 with his 1,500th career strikeout against Ian Desmond in the fourth. Lowe struck out Wilson Ramos in the eighth for his 12th of the game.
The right-hander gave up six hits and no walks in eight innings.
“We just looked at video and looked at what Derek’s strengths are and tried to apply it to this game,” McDowell said. “To his credit, he was able to execute all his pitches.”
Lowe called the win “about the best game I’ve pitched in a long time.”
The Nationals were impressed.
“Our hitters to a man said that was the best they’ve seen him,” said Washington manager Jim Riggleman, who compared Lowe’s control with former Braves standouts Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux.
“He took what the ump gave him. He was putting it where Glavine used to put it and where Maddux used to put it.”
In one stretch early in the game, five straight strikeouts for Lowe came on called third strikes.
“He spotted the ball more,” said Washington’s Ryan Zimmerman, who had two hits. “He mixed it up. He threw on both sides of the plate. He was definitely on his game. … When he’s hot like that, nibbling on the corners like that, it’s difficult to get to him.”
Added Desmond, who had four strikeouts: “He pitched me a little different than last time.”
Wagner struck out the side in the ninth to complete a game that took just 2 hours, 13 minutes.
The Nationals have lost six straight, matching their longest skid of the season.
Lowe ended August with three straight losses but has recovered with two strong wins in September. He gave up only one run in six innings of a 9-3 win at Pittsburgh on Wednesday before earning his first win in four 2010 starts against the Nationals.
“That’s as good as I’ve ever seen Derek,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said. “My gosh, he threw nothing but strikes. “I can’t say enough about his performance tonight. That looks good for the remainder (of the season).”
Washington’s 29-year-old rookie, Yunesky Maya (0-2), endured a four-run second to last six innings. He gave up five hits and four runs with three walks and two strikeouts.
“I was really happy with how he competed,” Riggleman said. “I thought he did fine. He gave us a chance.”
Ross Detwiler followed Maya with two scoreless innings as the Braves were held to five hits.
Maya trailed 4-0 following a long second inning in which he gave up three hits, walked two batters, hit a batter with a pitch and was called for two balks.
Maya walked McCann and Derrek Lee to open the inning and was called for two balks by plate umpire Dan Iassogna, allowing McCann to score. Nate McLouth’s double to right drove in Lee. Matt Diaz added a run-scoring triple to the right-field corner and scored on Omar Infante’s single.
Maya, a right-hander from Cuba, was recalled from Triple-A Syracuse on Sept. 7.
NOTES: It was Atlanta’s eighth shutout this season. … Lowe had 11 strikeouts for the Dodgers against the Angels on June 15, 2007, for his previous career high. His previous season high was seven against Philadelphia on June 2. … The Nationals fell to 25-48 on the road. They also lost six straight from June 15-20.
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