Saturday, June 4, 2011

D-backs cruise behind stellar Saunders outing

By Anthony Fenech / | 06/04/11

PHOENIX -- Pitching beats hitting. Or, as of late, D-backs pitching blanks Nationals hitting.

For the second time in as many games, D-backs pitchers shut out Nationals hitters as Joe Saunders pitched seven superb innings, leading the team to a 2-0 victory over Washington on Saturday in front of 26,199 at Chase Field.

After going winless over the first month and a half of the season, Saunders picked up his third consecutive victory, allowing just two hits while striking out five.

"I had good command," Saunders said. "The defense was awesome behind me, I got some ground balls, which was nice, and Hank [Blanco] was awesome back there."

And for the second time in as many starts, Saunders had to wiggle out of a bases-loaded jam in the first inning before hitting cruise control.

"It was a little shaky in the first inning for me," he said. "These bases-loaded [situations] in the first inning are getting kind of ridiculous. I'm getting tired of that, but I felt good today."

After allowing a leadoff single to Jerry Hairston, hitting Jayson Werth with one out and walking Danny Espinosa with two outs, the left-hander worked his way out of the inning by inducing a flyout from Wilson Ramos.

He allowed only two baserunners the rest of the way and credited his changeup command as something that contributed to his success.

"I think I probably threw more than normal," Saunders said. "With a team like that, they are aggressive, and I tried to work that against them the best that I could, and I was fortunate to get some ground balls and just have some fun out there."

Stephen Drew tripled home Kelly Johnson with two outs in the bottom of the first to provide the D-backs with the only run the staff needed as the team posted back-to-back shutouts for the first time since 2009.

The shutout was Arizona's fifth this season and its fourth victory in six games this homestand.

"It's huge to get wins when they're picking us up and we're not getting a lot of offense," Drew said. "But at the same time, we're getting timely hitting, and it's a good feeling to have."

Opposing Saunders, Nationals starter Livan Hernandez turned in seven solid innings, allowing two runs on four hits. He struck out three and walked four.

"He's a veteran guy, he's a gamer and he pitched very well," D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said.

The two starting pitchers combined to sit the opposition down in order nine times.

In the seventh, Xavier Nady smacked a double to right field to score Chris Young, who singled to lead off the inning and was running on the pitch.

"That was great execution and a huge, huge run," Gibson said.

Nady, a part-time player who has started in each of the past three games, was hitting .467 in 15 career at-bats against Hernandez entering the game.

"With him, you just try to swing at strikes," Nady said. "Fortunately, I kind of saw a little bit of everything and I was able to put a good swing on the pitch."

After Saunders was lifted in the seventh for pinch-hitter Sean Burroughs, David Hernandez worked his way through a two-on, two-out jam in the eighth by striking out Mike Morse, and J.J. Putz nailed down his 17th save of the season in the ninth.

Each team recorded four hits. Hairston singled and doubled for the Nationals, who were shut out in back-to-back games for the second time this season and the ninth time overall.

Hernandez has been involved in five of those shutouts.

"It's not something I can control," he said. "I go and try to pitch good. That's all."

With the victory, the D-backs improved to 18-4 in their past 22 games and sit a half-game ahead of the Giants in the National League West. Ian Kennedy faces Jason Marquis Sunday afternoon to wrap up the home stand.

"It's a very good accomplishment," Gibson said of the shutouts. "We have a game tomorrow, and we hope Ian's on his game. I've had confidence in these guys all along, from the get-go, even when things didn't look good -- but our rotation has gelled pretty good."

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