The Washington Nationals are still in last place in the NL East, but they’re not the doormats they were earlier this month. To continue their surge, though, the Nationals will have to beat one of the NL’s top pitchers.
The Nationals (21-30) have won 12 of their last 17 games, including five of six. They had dropped their previous eight contests before the recent run of success, their longest losing streak since an eight-game skid in April 2004.
“It’s a funny game,” third baseman Ryan Zimmerman told the team’s official Web site. “Anything can happen. We have to play this well the rest of the way.”
Washington batted .310 and averaged 7.0 runs per game in going 5-2 on their road trip to Cincinnati and St. Louis. Second baseman Ronnie Belliard went 4-for-5 with a two-run homer as the Nationals beat the Cardinals 7-2 on Sunday.
“Only time will tell, but everything is clicking right now,” manager Manny Acta said. “From Day 1, I didn’t care what everybody said and predicted. I want to play over .500.”
After the strong road trip, the Nationals look to bring their hot hitting to RFK Stadium as they open a nine-game homestand.
Penny (6-1, 2.26 ERA), though, has other ideas as he looks to become the fourth NL pitcher to reach seven wins. The right-hander is second in the league in ERA and has not allowed a home run in 63 2-3 innings. Only one other pitcher has tossed more than 27 innings without giving up a home run—Dodgers reliever Jonathan Broxton, who has a 1.65 ERA in 27 1-3 innings spanning 26 appearances.
Penny won his first six starts against the Washington franchise, and is 11-5 with a 2.33 ERA in 18 career outings against the Expos and the Nationals. However, the right-hander has lost his last two starts against the franchise— once in Montreal in July 2004, and once at RFK Stadium in August 2005.
The Dodgers (29-21) have won eight of Penny’s 10 starts this year, including a 5-1 victory over Milwaukee on Wednesday as Penny held the Brewers to six hits in seven shutout innings.
Overall, Los Angeles has won four of five after matching a season high with four straight losses. The Dodgers came away with a 2-1 win over the Chicago Cubs on Sunday, thanks to a hitless rally in the bottom of the 11th inning. Three Dodgers walked to load the bases and Juan Pierre was hit by a pitch to drive home the winning run.
“I’ll take my (RBIs) any way I can,” Pierre said. “If I have to dive over home plate to get hit, I’ll do it.”
Los Angeles matches up against Washington starter Jason Simontacchi (2-2, 4.37). The right-hander beat Cincinnati on Wednesday, allowing one run and four hits in 5 1-3 innings of the Nationals’ 12-7 win.
Simontacchi has made just one relief appearance against the Dodgers in his career, pitching a perfect inning on July 19, 2003.
Washington hopes to have first baseman Dmitri Young back in the lineup on Tuesday. Young suffered a lower lumbar strain in a collision with St. Louis’ Scott Rolen on Sunday, and did not return to the game after an hour-long rain delay.
Young, leading the team with a .298 batting average and hitting .548 (17-for-31) in his last 11 games, believes he’ll be able to play Tuesday, saying “it should be fine.”