Nats' Day finds way against Braves

Right-hander turns tables on nemeses in 2-0 victory to end 2-game team slide

Baseball

April 21, 2005|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - During his four-season major league career, Zach Day of the Washington Nationals has been like two different pitchers.

Night and day, you might say,

There's the Day who entered last night's game 1-5 against the Atlanta Braves with a 10.93 ERA. Then there's the Day who's 17-15 against the rest of the league, despite getting the least run support last season of any pitcher in baseball.

Last night, Day managed to exorcise his Atlanta demons. The 26-year-old right-hander shut out the Braves for seven innings, then watched as the bullpen held the lead and made Day and the Nats 2-0 winners.

The win ended a two-game Washington slide and kept the Nats in a first-place division tie with the Florida Marlins.

"It's a game of adjustments." said Day, who studied film of his previous frustrating efforts against the Braves.

The pitcher said he made some specific changes this time around. But anxious not to tip off the division rivals, he politely declined to say what those modifications were.

The Braves made it interesting in the ninth, putting runners on first and second with one out against closer Chad Cordero. But Cordero struck out Brian Jordan and Andruw Jones to end the game.

It was Washington's third straight win over the Braves, a team that has tormented the MontrealM-wWashington franchise for years. Last season, the Braves won 15 of the teams" 19 meet ings.

Day seemed to struggle with his control early - a problem he attributed to rust from not having pitched for nine days. But he soon righted himself.

Manager Frank Robinson pinch-hit for Day (1-1) with the Nats leading 2-0 in the seventh. He had allowed only three hits, all singles, and only one runner advanced past second base against him.

It was a giant stride for a pitcher who entered the game having allowed 10 runs in 10 innings and was bombed by the Braves for seven runs on April 11. He was without a win in his last nine starts despite surrendering three runs or fewer six times.

Last year, Day had baseball's lowest run support - 2.47 runs per nine innings.

It looked early on last night as if Day's bad luck might persist as the Nats narrowly missed a scoring opportunity.

Washington loaded the bases with two outs in the second against loser Horacio Ramirez (1-1), but shortstop Rafael Furcal ranged behind second base to snag Day's bouncer, saving two runs.

The Nationals took a 2-0 lead in the third inning. Brad Wilkerson singled and, one out later, Jose Vidro hit his fourth home run of the season on a 1-2 pitch. Like teammate Nick Johnson, Vidro now has a 10-game hitting streak.

Day seemed to labor early. He began the game by giving up a single and walk and then went 3-0 on Chipper Jones. But Jones bounced into a double play on a 3-1 count and Johnny Estrada flied to left and Day was on his way.

"He was one hit away in the first inning from being out of the ballgame." Robinson said. "It just goes to show you, you never know. He got it done. It wasn't pretty, but he got it done."

After Day left, Luis Ayala pitched one scoreless inning and Cordero finished up in the ninth.

NOTES: Cristian Guzman was moved from eighth in the order back to second after getting three hits Tuesday night. He still entered last night's game batting just .157. The Nationals announced that today's game will be broadcast locally on WDCA-20. The last two games were not televised, and today's 1:05 p.m. game was a late addition to the broadcast schedule. Nats reliever T.J. Tucker will be out longer than expected. His groin pull will keep him sidelined four to six weeks, the team said. Atlanta's Andruw Jones entered the game hitless in his last 23 at-bats. He went 0-4 and left two runners stranded with a fielder's choice grounder in the fourth. He hit into a double play to end the seventh and stranded two runners in the ninth. It was the first shutout at RFK Stadium since Mickey Lolich of the Detroit Tigers blanked the Washington Senators on Sept. 6, 1971.

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