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Simontacchi earns first win since '03

Simontacchi earns first win since '03

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WASHINGTON -- On Sunday afternoon, right-hander Jason Simontacchi was sitting on the couch in the Nationals' clubhouse. He was watching teammate Jon Rauch strike out Marlins second baseman Dan Uggla to end the game and help the Nationals win, 6-4.

Simontacchi picked up his 21st career victory, but it wasn't just an ordinary victory. It was his first since Sept. 20, 2003, against the Astros. He pitched 5 1/3 innings and gave up three earned runs on eight hits against Florida.

"I was sitting in the clubhouse when Rauch was on the mound. I was thinking, 'It has been a long time. It's just another blessing from God,'" Simontacchi said. "Hard work pays off. I kept my nose to the grindstone."

After playing most of the '04 season in the Cardinals' Minor League system, Simontacchi spent the next two years recovering from shoulder problems. He had surgery in early 2005 to repair a torn labrum.

Simontacchi then signed with the Cubs in early '06, but the team voided the contract because he was still feeling discomfort in the shoulder.

"My shoulder was not ready to go. I was wondering if I was ever going to pitch," Simontacchi said.

After recovering, Simontacchi pitched for Bridgeport of the independent Atlantic League before signing with the Nationals last December.

"He is a pro; he has been around," manager Manny Acta said. "He brings so much to the table."

In his second start of the season on Sunday, the Nationals gave Simontacchi all the run support he would need by scoring five runs in the second inning off right-hander Wes Obermueller.

Cristian Guzman highlighted the scoring with a two-run triple off Obermueller. It was Guzman's first two RBIs since the 2005 season.

"We were due [for a day like this]," Acta said. "I like the way our guys have been going about their business despite our record."

Turns out Simontacchi is a hard-nosed player on the bases. With the bases loaded, one out and Simontacchi on first base in the second, Felipe Lopez hit a ground ball to Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez, who was able to get the force play by throwing to Uggla at second. But Uggla was unable to turn two because Simontacchi broke up the double play by sliding hard into second.

Instead of the Marlins getting the third out of the inning, it allowed Jesus Flores to score the third run. Acta said it is rare to see a pitcher sliding hard into a base.

"That was huge," Acta said. "Not too many guys that pitch are able to do that -- run the bases or break up the double play. It's nice to see that."

Simontacchi said he is simply playing the game the right way.

"It's just hard-nosed baseball," he said. "It's not like I'm trying to hurt anybody. It gives us an advantage, maybe get us another run or extend the inning."

Simontacchi didn't get to finish the sixth because of two bizarre plays on defense. Uggla started things off by hitting a fly ball to medium left field. It looked like left fielder Ryan Church had a bead on it, but he lost it in the sun and it dropped in for a double.

After Miguel Cabrera walked and Florida collected three consecutive singles, Alfredo Amezaga drove in Jason Wood with a sacrifice fly to center field.

With the score 5-3, Acta took Simontacchi out in favor of right-hander Jesus Colome.

"I need to execute a little bit more, get the ball inside a little bit more on a couple of guys," Simontacchi said. "They are a good hitting club and they swing the bats real well."

After Colome was able to get the second out of the inning, Aaron Boone hit a routine popup to first baseman Robert Fick, who dropped the ball in foul territory. Boone took advantage of the situation and singled to drive in Josh Willingham and make it a 5-4 game.

But the Nationals got one run back when Flores singled to left to send Church home in the sixth.

"We were able to get another insurance run and the bullpen did a heck of a job holding the lead," Church said.

After saving his first game of the season, Rauch talked about how good it was to have Simontacchi get his first victory in three years.

"It's important for him to get that win and that confidence. He is going to compete -- that bulldog mentality that guys talk about in the clubhouse. He is that type of guy," Rauch said. "He showed today what he is capable of. Hopefully, he will continue to do that this year."

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

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