Astacio pitches gem to blank Braves

Astacio pitches gem to blank Braves

WASHINGTON -- During his 15 years in the big leagues, Nationals right-hander Pedro Astacio has had major problems against the Braves. He was 4-16 with a 5.22 ERA during his career. The losses were the most by an active pitcher who ever faced Atlanta.

But Tuesday night was a different story for Astacio. He pitched his first complete game and blanked Atlanta, 5-0, on a two-hitter in front of 24,036 at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium.

The win broke the Nationals' three-game losing streak and improved their record to 52-67.

The complete game marked the first time a member of the Nationals went nine innings since Livan Hernandez pulled the trick in a loss against the Giants on Sept. 20, 2005. For Astacio, it was his 12th career shutout and 31st career complete game. In Tuesday's game, Astacio struck out five batters and walked none. How economical was Astacio on the mound? He threw 89 pitches, and 66 of them went for strikes.

Astacio had a perfect game going into the fifth inning, but with two outs, Jeff Francouer singled to right field. Astacio, however, managed to retire Ryan Langerhans to end the inning. At that point of the game, Astacio threw just 33 pitches.

"It was unbelievable how many strikes he threw," catcher Brian Schneider said. "He didn't nibble at the complete game. It wasn't a lot of pitches. He went right after guys. He was able to keep them off guard with his offspeed pitches at any count and at any time."

Astacio is making up for lost time after missing the first three months of the season because of a forearm strain. He lowered his ERA from 5.66 to 4.64.

"Everything was working. It was a good game, especially that we lost a couple of games," Astacio said. "I was trying to say focused and aggressive."

The other hit came in the seventh, when Adam LaRoche singled to left. The toughest out came in the sixth inning when Pete Orr hit a liner to first baseman Nick Johnson, who back-handed the ball for the second out of the inning.

"It was a superb effort on his part, from the first pitch of the ballgame to the last pitch of the ballgame. He was in complete control the entire ballgame," manager Frank Robinson said. "It's just one of those efforts you don't see too often, but it's just outstanding on his part. He kept them off-balance. He was in the strike zone from pitch one. He's just in that zone. He kept building and building. It never varied. The breaking ball was outstanding. He spotted his fastball very well."

Well-pitched games have been few and far between for the Nationals starters this season. They had a 5.00 ERA before Tuesday's game, and, most of the time, it meant that the bullpen was used early in the game. The bullpen has been taxed of late, and closer Chad Cordero was happy to see Washington's relievers get a day off.

"You knew something special was going to happen, how he took a perfect game into the fifth inning. His pitch count was down. We knew right there, the bullpen was going to have a day off for the most part," Cordero said. "To see him pitch a complete game shut out, that's always good to see. Hopefully, that will carry over to Billy [Traber on Wednesday]."

LaRoche said the Braves thought Astacio pitched like vintage Pedro Martinez.

"That's what we were saying after the third inning, 'He's throwing just like Pedro. He's throwing any pitch he wants, on any count, and he's painting with it,'" LaRoche said.

The Nationals gave him runs to work with off Lance Cormier, starting in the second inning, when Bernie Castro bunted the ball past Cormier for a single to drive in Alex Escobar. The play came with two outs. It was Castro's second bunt single in as many nights.

"Who expected him to bunt with two outs, first and third?" Robinson said. "It's not just that Castro bunted, it was excellent again tonight. Well-placed, well-struck. With his speed, he is going to beat the pitcher to first base. That's how quick he is. We have to put those bunts on an instructional bunting tape. It's good to see."

Washington added three more runs in the next inning, when a ball hit by Austin Kearns went under the glove of shortstop Tony Pena and allowed Alfonso Soriano and Felipe Lopez to score.

Escobar followed with a sacrifice fly to drive in Johnson.

The Nationals scored their last run of the game when Kearns drove in Johnson with a double to left-center field.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.