The Nationals could push their luck only so far.
After scoring 13 runs and hitting seven home runs against Major League Baseball’s best pitching staff in 2010, Washington saw order restored by San Diego Padres right-hander Mat Latos.
The Alexandria, Va. native pitched seven scoreless innings on Thursday evening at Nationals Park as the Padres avoided a sweep of the three-game series with a 7-1 win.
Latos allowed five hits and walked just two. The 22-year-old also cranked his first career home run – one of two solo shots for San Diego in the fourth inning and four on the night. Latos later singled and scored on a homer by teammate Chase Headley.
“[Latos] has had a real good year, All-Star consideration-type starting pitching,” said Nats manager Jim Riggleman. “He’s got a real good curve ball. But you have to have such respect for the fastball. He runs some balls in on hitters. He’s a power pitcher with a classic downward breaking ball and a good fastball.”
It’s not the first time Latos has done this to Washington. He is now 3-0 against the Nats with four earned runs allowed in 18 2/3 innings. Latos has also struck out 21 batters in those three starts. He improved to 10-4 on the season and has a 2.45 ERA.
“He mixes it up,” said Nats third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. “He’s obviously got a good fastball. He’s been throwing well all year ... . You take your approach you always have and he just beat us.”
On the other end, Washington starter Luis Atilano (6-6, 4.85 ERA) wasn’t sharp. He gave up an early run in the first inning and escaped a bases-loaded one-out jam. But in the third Atilano really faltered. He gave up a solo home run to No. 7 hitter Chris Denorfia – his second of the series – and then another bomb to Latos, who ripped a homer to left. That made it 3-0 Padres and provided Latos with all the runs he would need. In the dugout afterwards the 22-year-old received the silent treatment from his teammates, who pretended nothing out of the ordinary had happened. It was the first home run for Latos in his career. Headley hit his two-run homer in the seventh and Jerry Hairston launched a solo homer in the ninth.
“My breaking stuff wasn’t working today,” Atilano said. “I think that’s why I got hit a little bit hard…When you’re off-speed pitches is not working you have to battle. I tried to battle and keep the runs down, but it didn’t go that way.”
That put Washington’s offense in a hole and the Nats couldn’t take advantage of their few chances. They had runners at first and second with two out in the second thanks to a pair of walks. But Latos blew away Atilano at the plate to end the threat. He then retired 13 of the next 14 batters. Washington loaded the bases in the seventh, but Nyjer Morgan grounded out to second with two out.
Roger Bernadina doubled in the eighth off San Diego reliever Luke Gregerson and scored on an Adam Dunn single. Bernadina finished the night 2-for-4. Adam Kennedy also had two hits.
For Washington, it’s two steps forward, one step back. The Nats (38-48) took two-of-three from the Padres – who entered the series with the best record in the National League - but are 5-4 over the last nine games and face the strong pitching of the San Francisco Giants at home this weekend.
“We just want to finish [the first half] strong,” Morgan said. “We’ve got three games left before the All-Star break and that’s what guys are looking at.”