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Mets' Dickey beats Nationals to improve to 9-1

The SportsXchange

WASHINGTON -- Not many teams have been able to hit Mets knuckleballer R.A. Dickey this season. The Washington Nationals can be added to that list.

Dickey threw 7 1/3 scoreless innings, and Lucas Duda hit a two-run homer to help the New York Mets to a 3-1 victory over the Washington Nationals Thursday afternoon.

Dickey (9-1) extended his scoreless innings streak to 24 2/3 and his winning streak to seven games. The Mets (32-26) snapped a three-game losing streak. Washington (32-23) also had beaten New York four straight times this season.

The right-handed knuckleballer allowed four singles and rarely ran into trouble. Dickey hasn't lost since his start against Atlanta on April 18. He struck out eight and walked just two on 105 pitches - 73 of which were strikes.

"He has the best command of the knuckleball of anybody I've seen," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "And today was the hardest one I've seen him have in quite a while."

Dickey now has won four straight starts with a total of 38 strikeouts and just four walks. In addition, he's gone 7-0 in his last nine starts and has given the Mets quality starts in 11 of his 12 outings in 2012.

"I'm not doing anything differently," Dickey said. "I'm getting some more swings and misses. Outside of that, there's nothing really that I'm doing differently. I feel comfortable with where I am with the pitch."

Many knuckleball pitchers throw the pitch softer and let it flutter to the plate and change directions. But Dickey's style is a bit different.

He's got a few other pitches, like a sinker, but throws a harder knuckleball, often in the high 70s and low 80s - which he did often in this game - which seems to make it tougher to hit. When asked what it was like to watch the pitch move from behind, Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy just shook his head.

"It looks like trying to hit a butterfly," Murphy said. "It's going everywhere. That thing's dancing all over the place."

Washington manager Davey Johnson said Dickey has a good variety of knuckleballs that he uses effectively - and the hard one really impressed him.

"I have seen knuckleballers who will throw a hard knuckleball but his is about as hard as I have ever seen," Johnson said. "But the one he uses mostly, and the one he has the best command of, is that hard knuckleball. It just comes up there and wobbles. That is the one we had the most trouble with today."

Collins pulled Dickey in the eighth, and Bobby Parnell later escaped a two-on, two-outs jam. Frank Francisco came on to close it in the ninth for his 15th save despite giving up a solo homer to Ryan Zimmerman.

The Mets initially threatened in the second. Duda doubled to start the inning, and Ike Davis walked with two outs before Washington starter Chien-Ming Wang (1-2) hit Omar Quintanilla to load the bases. Dickey then hit a grounder that Wang leaped to grab before throwing him out.

New York loaded the bases again in the third with one out before Wang escaped again. This time, Murphy grounded back to Wang, who started an inning-ending 1-2-3 double play.

The Mets broke through in the fifth when Duda hit his two-run homer to right-center to give New York a 2-0 lead. That gave the Mets the lead for good and paved the way for them to avoid getting swept in this three-game series. The Mets also pulled to within1 1/2 games of first-place Washington.

"We gained a game on them," Duda said. "That's a [good] ballclub, they're playing well. We're lucky we got out of here with one."

New Yrok added some insurance in the seventh when David Wright led off with a walk off of Tom Gorzelanny and stole second. Wright moved to third on Duda's groundout and scored when Murphy singled to put New York up, 3-0.

Washington threatened for the first time in the seventh when Zimmerman singled and Adam LaRoche followed with a walk. Michael Morse then hit a shot into the hole that Quintanilla grabbed and quickly threw to Wright at third. That forced Zimmerman, and Dickey got Ian Desmond to ground into a double play which ended the inning.

Zimmerman led off the ninth with a solo homer off Francisco, but the closer retired the next three in order to lock up the win.

Notes: The Nationals made a few roster moves before Thursday's game. First, they recalled first baseman/outfielder Tyler Moore from Triple-A Syracuse and put catcher Carlos Maldonado on the 15-day disabled list. That move was retroactive to May 30, as he's suffering from a lower back strain. Then, right before the game, the team announced that relief pitcher Brad Lidge would be coming off the disabled list. He's been there for the last 38 games with an abdominal injury. Washington then placed right-hander Henry Rodriguez on the DL with a strained right index finger, retroactive to June 6...Scott Hairston was a late replacement for left fielder Jason Bay in the starting lineup. Bay hadn't played since April 23, being on the DL thanks to a non-displaced fracture of a rib on his left side. Bay was in the original starting lineup, but the change was made to Hairston in the final hour before the game began. Bay said afterward that he's been battling a sinus infection and had a bad adverse reaction to his medication, which made him ill...Murphy ended his 0-for-19 skid when he got an infield single in the top of the fifth inning. However, he finished the day 2-for-5, moving his average back up to .290.
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