Nats blanked by Penny, Dodgers

Nats blanked by Penny, Dodgers

WASHINGTON -- Just when one thought the Nationals were headed in the right direction, they took a few steps back on Tuesday night in a 10-0 loss to the Dodgers in front of 18,483 at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium.

It was the Nationals' worst loss of the season, as they dropped their record to 21-31.

The Nats were powerless against Dodgers right-hander Brad Penny, who was dominating with his arm and bat, and they had no answers for center fielder Juan Pierre, who had four extra-base hits.

Penny, who is off to the best start of his big-league career, pitched 6 1/3 innings without giving up a run. The only time the Nationals had runners in scoring position against him was in the seventh inning, when they had runners on first and second with one out.

Penny left the game after that, but he left a lasting impression on Nationals catcher Brian Schneider. Penny was doing a good job mixing his pitches and throwing splitters to right-handers, something he didn't do in the past, according to Schneider.

"He got ahead and threw strikes," said Schneider, who went 1-for-3. "He had every pitch working. He mixed it up well. He threw me a couple of first-pitch curveballs. His changeup and split were working. His fastball was running up to 95-96 mph. That's probably as good as I seen him pitch since I've been facing him."

Manager Manny Acta also admired the way Penny pitched. The skipper realized early on that the Nationals didn't have a chance with the right-hander on his game.

"He was too much for us today. Dominant," Acta said. "He has above-average pitches, so when he has command of them, regardless of who you are -- no chance. We had no chance."

Right-hander Jason Simontacchi was Penny's counterpart, and Acta felt that Simontacchi pitched better that what his line score indicated. Simontacchi gave up six runs in 6 1/3 innings. Acta liked the fact Simontacchi saved the bullpen by going into the seventh inning. The Nationals ended up using only three relievers in the game.

"I think we crumbled defensively, and a lot of that damage could have been prevented," Acta said. "Up until the seventh inning, [Simontacchi] threw the ball well. We just couldn't put anything together against Penny."

It was a 3-0 game entering the seventh inning, but the Dodgers broke it open by scoring six runs in the frame. Simontacchi left the game with the bases loaded and one out. Right-hander Winston Abreu went to the mound and induced Normar Garciaparra to hit a slow roller to third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who threw ball away while attempting to force Penny at the plate. Pierre also scored on the play.

Zimmerman said he threw to the plate because Penny was a slow runner.

"I thought I could make the play," Zimmerman said. "If there is anybody else running, I probably don't throw home. If you make the throw, you get the guy out. I was trying to get out of the inning without any damage. If it happened again, I would do the same thing."

Simontacchi didn't feel that that he pitched better than what the numbers indicated. He had a tough time getting Pierre and Penny out, as they combined to get six hits off the right-hander. Penny went 2-for-2 with a run scored.

Pierre started the game off by hitting a triple and scoring on a Garciaparra single. Pierre ended up getting three doubles off Simontacchi, while driving in a run and scoring another.

"You leave the ball up in the zone at the level, the ball gets hit hard," Simontacchi said. "That's exactly what I did."

This nine-game homestand is a big test for the Nationals. In their recent road trip, they beat the Reds and Cardinals -- two sub-.500 teams. Starting with Tuesday's game, the Nationals play six games against teams with a record over .500. After the three-game series against the Dodgers, the Nationals host the Padres for a weekend set.

"It will be a good test for us," Zimmerman said. "L.A. is good. San Diego is good. They have quality arms. We are going to really stick with our game plan and battle. We are going to have to beat some good pitchers. It will be a good test, but I think we can do it."

It will be tough for the Nationals on Wednesday, as they face right-hander Derek Lowe, who has given up one run in seven innings at RFK.

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