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Saturday, August 2, 2008

And Dukes Shall Lead Them; Nats Stop Skid

Washington--Elijah Dukes returned from the 15-day disabled list and provided a spark -- one of many on the day -- as the Washington Nationals defeated the Cincinnati Reds Friday night 5-2, ending a nine-game losing streak. The Nats jumped all over Reds starter Homer Bailey, touching him for five runs and eighth hits in the first two innings.

Bailey (L, 0-5, 7.55) would not see the third inning, as the once heralded "can't miss" prospect continued to struggle in his first full season in the big leagues. "I was damn near putting it on a tee for them," Bailey said. "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, as long as they don't cut your arms off -- and they're still attached."

Bailey's opponent, Nats starter Odalis Perez, was as sharp as he has been all season, dominating the Reds line-up, pitching seven and one-third innings, giving up just one earned run on three hits and three walks, striking out five along the way.

The fun got started for the Nats in the very first inning, as Willie Harris continued his hot streak, reaching on a one-out single. Dukes followed with a seeing eye single to left field and both runners advanced when Reds catcher David Ross couldn't handle a breaking ball from Bailey on Austin Kearns' strikeout. Catcher Jesus Flores (1-for-4, two RBIs) lined a single to left center, and both Harris and Dukes, lumbering home from second, scored. Dukes was nowhere near full speed on the jaunt, but professed after the game, "No problems at all, man."

The hit parade continued in the second inning. Newly acquired shortstop Alberto Gonzalez led off with a double to right field and pitcher Perez sacrificed him cleanly to third. Lead-off hitter Emilio Bonifacio, acquired for closer Jon Rauch last week, gathered his first RBI as a National, singling up the middle an allowing Gonzalez (1-for-2, two walks) to walk home. Bonifacio immediately stole second base, and Harris walked to put two men on. Dukes (2-for-4, two RBIs) then delivered the big hit, a double down the line to left field, scoring Bonifacio and Harris all the way from first.

The Nats had all the runs they needed to beat the Reds on this night.

The rest was up to Perez to make the lead hold, and that he did. He only ran into trouble twice. In the fourth inning Reds SS Jeff Keppinger doubled to lead off, took third on a Jay Bruce ground out and scored on another ground out by Brandon Phillips. In the fifth, Perez allowed a one-out single to Andy Phillips, and immediately followed that with a walk to catcher David Ross. But Perez retired relief pitcher Nick Masset, just arrived from the American League in the Ken Griffey, Jr. trade and Jerry Hairston, Jr. flied out to end the inning.

Gonzales and Bonifacio made quite an excellent double-play combination. Gonzalez made several outstanding plays, displaying tremendous range and a rifle for an arm. Bonifacio made two nifty leaping plays in the ninth inning to snuff any chance of a late inning rally.

The Nats try to start a winning streak of their own tonight against the Reds. Jason Bergmann (1-8, 4.13) faces Josh Fogg (2-3, 7.84) for Cincinnati.

NATS NOTES: The victory moves Washington's record to 39-70. They trail NL East leading Philadelphia by 20 games.

With the release of C Paul LoDuca, Johnny Estrada and INF Felipe Lopez and the addition of SS Alberto Gonzalez and 2B Emilio Bonifacio, the Nationals are now the youngest team in the majors, with an average age of 27 years, 197 days.

The Nationals optioned RHP Garrett Mock to Triple-A Columbus to make room for Bonifacio. The team also reinstated RHP Ryan Wagner from the 60-day disabled list and optioned him to Columbus.

3B Ryan Zimmerman and SS Cristian Guzman both missed the game due to lingering discomfort with their bruised hands. Both are still listed day-to-day. Guzman has now missed six games, Zimmerman two.

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