Inside Pitch: Nats Win Beltway Battle

Round One of the Battle of the Beltways went to the new kids on the block. The Washington Nationals took two of three from the Baltimore Orioles, their new rivals from up the road, thanks to a 3-1 victory Sunday.

The interleague series drew about 96,000 fans to RFK Stadium, most of whom got into the spirit of things and displayed more emotion than had been seen in the ballpark all season. Nationals manager Frank Robinson, though, cautioned against making too much of this rivalry yet, saying it can't be considered one yet.

"I'm telling you, this thing takes years," Robinson said. "It doesn't take three games. This is just a sample, really. This thing will build over time. It has a good chance to be a rivalry, and a real good one. But let's not try to force it in."

REPLAY: Livan Hernandez tossed seven solid innings Sunday to earn his first win in eight starts, and the Nationals played an aggressive style of ball in capturing the first Battle of the Beltways series with a 3-1 win over the Orioles.

Hernandez allowed one run and six hits in seven innings, winning for the first time since April 8. He also helped his cause at the plate, executing a perfect squeeze bunt in the fourth to bring Washington's third run of the afternoon across the plate.

NATS NOTES

  • Nick Johnson got the day off Sunday after going 1 for his last 12 and seeing his batting average drop below .300 for the first time since April 12. "I think he's just a little tired," manager Frank Robinson said. "He's not putting good swings on the ball." Matt LeCroy started in Johnson's place against the Orioles.
  • Livan Hernandez enjoyed one of his best pitching performances of the season Sunday, allowing one run over seven innings to finally earn his second victory. Hernandez (2-5) hadn't won since April 8, his longest drought since May 26-June 29, 1999, but he snapped that streak by changing up his pregame routine. Instead of going to sleep early Saturday night, Hernandez said he went to the movies at 1 a.m. He woke up tired Sunday but still managed to throw a season-high 120 pitches in beating the Orioles. "It was a great movie," Hernandez said. "Then I went home and spent an hour, then went to sleep. I woke up and I felt tired, and I said, 'OK, whatever.' I'll drive to the stadium and I felt OK. I want to enjoy my life, because I had a bad moment earlier in the season. I've got to do something different."
  • Alfonso Soriano continues to impress both with his power and his speed. He homered for the third consecutive game Saturday, giving him 15 for the season. Then he stole two bases Sunday, giving him 10 for the year.
  • Alex Escobar is getting a shot at playing every day in center field. Called up from Double-A Harrisburg on Saturday after OF Ryan Church was demoted to Harrisburg, Escobar has started the last two days for the Nationals and has looked strong. He's 3-for-8, has scored two runs and executed a perfect hit-and-run during Saturday's win over the Orioles.
  • Chad Cordero has rediscovered his top form. After struggling earlier this month, Cordero has given up just one hit in his last eight innings at home. He recorded his fifth save of the season Sunday, closing out the Nationals' 3-1 win over the Orioles.
  • THE NUMBERS GAME - 30,320: Attendance at RFK Stadium for the first-ever meeting between the Orioles and Nationals, more than 16,000 below capacity.

    HE SAID WHAT? "Just because you're playing a team down the road, that doesn't mean it's a rivalry. Both teams have to be productive and winning over the years. You have to create the fan interest and the media interest. That makes it a rivalry." - Nationals manager Frank Robinson, on Washington and Baltimore meeting in interleague play for the first time.

    MEDICAL WATCH:

  • RHP Luis Ayala (sprained right elbow ligament) is out for the season after getting hurt in the World Baseball Classic.
  • RHP Brian Lawrence (torn right labrum and rotator cuff) began the season on the disabled list, and he is almost certainly out for the year.
  • SS Cristian Guzman (slight tear in right shoulder) had season-ending surgery May 9 after his attempt to rehab the shoulder failed.
  • RHP Ryan Drese (strained right elbow tendon, partially torn ulnar collateral ligament) went on the disabled list April 15, and he's unlikely to return before late May. Season-ending surgery is a possibility, but he wants to try to avoid that.
  • RHP Pedro Astacio (strained forearm) began the season on the disabled list. He had a setback in his rehab, so he is not close to heading out on a minor league assignment. Astacio was recently transferred from the 15 day DL to the 60 day DL.
  • RHP John Patterson (strained right forearm) went on the disabled list retroactive to April 23. He received an injection in his arm May 8, and he probably won't be back until June.
  • C Brian Schneider (tight left hamstring) went on the disabled list retroactive to May 11.
  • OF Jose Guillen (strained right hamstring) left the game May 17 in the fourth inning and expects to be out until at least May 24.
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