Penny, Pierre lead Dodgers' rout
Righty blanks Nats for 6 1/3 frames; center fielder has four hits
WASHINGTON -- To Moneyball disciples who worship on-base percentage, the Dodgers' signing of Juan Pierre and his recent promotion to leadoff hitter are compound head-scratchers.
Pierre made some sense out of it Tuesday night with a career-high four extra-base hits to support Brad Penny's seventh win, while the Dodgers toyed with the Nationals, 10-0.
Penny (7-1) went 6 1/3 scoreless innings, followed by Yhency Brazoban and Brett Tomko in the Dodgers' third shutout of the season. In addition to Pierre's offense, the Dodgers enjoyed a three-run homer from Luis Gonzalez, along with three clutch hits and two RBIs from Nomar Garciaparra.
"We seemed to have guys running the bases every inning," said Gonzalez. "Playing a young team, their pitching staff has had injuries, you've got to jump on them and not let them get any confidence. Then with Penny on the mound throwing the way he did, it can demoralize a young team like that."
But it was Pierre who set the tone with his first triple of the season pulled down the right-field line leading off the game, and he kept it going until an eighth-inning at-bat when a flyout to center was a reminder of what Pierre has done a little too much this year.
Otherwise, he was in the middle of three of the five Dodgers rallies. He was singled home by Garciaparra in the first inning, he doubled home Tony Abreu in the third inning and he followed Penny's double with his third double of the game down the left-field line during the Dodgers' six-run seventh inning. He also followed Penny's fifth-inning single with a double to right.
"It's fun for me to run around the bases," said Pierre. "Everything was clicking for me tonight. I was able to hit the ball on the screws tonight, going line to line, hitting with runners in scoring position. It's the best I felt at the plate as a Dodger. Hopefully I pick it up and carry it over to the next night."
Pierre's first two months as a Dodger haven't gone smoothly after signing a five-year, $44 million contract. His defense was shaky the first couple weeks. Offensively, his game is speed and spray, bunts and steals, but his average had sunk to .265 until last week. A 10-for-21 current streak has his average up to .286. Despite a 4-for-5 night, his on-base percentage of .317 is the lowest of all Dodgers with at least 100 at-bats.
His numbers have been boosted by manager Grady Little's decision last week to move Pierre from second to leadoff when the Dodgers face right-handed pitchers, which is about 75 percent of the time. Not that Little expected anything like this.
"The guy we saw today is beyond what we thought we'd see," said Little. "Sometimes, Juan gets the wrong angle on the bat. He gets the head of the bat on the ball. But if you get the wrong angle, that's where the ball goes, and he's not strong enough to get it over the fence."
Penny not only pitched, he had a perfect night at the plate -- a double, single, sacrifice bunt and scored a run when Ryan Zimmerman's wild throw home grazed his helmet as he slid into the plate. The only complaint about Penny was his baserunning, specifically advancing only from second to third on Pierre's seventh-inning double.
"He's the definition of a base-clogger," said Little.
"He cost me a ribbie," said Pierre. "Three RBIs for me would be a month's worth."
Penny mounted a spirited defense.
"I could have scored," he said. "I don't think he [third-base coach Rich Donnelly] wanted me to get tired."
That was about the only complaint in a nearly flawless opener to the Dodgers' 10-game trip. Although the Nationals came into the game in last place, they also brought with them a four-game win streak.
But Penny personally owns the Nationals (12-5 lifetime) and is having an even better first half than he had last year, which was good enough for him to start the All-Star Game. Penny's ERA dropped to 2.06 (second in the league).
He didn't reach seven wins last year until June 9, and he remains the only pitcher in the league with at least 40 innings to have not allowed a home run. He allowed 19 homers last season.
Penny deflects suggestions -- from his manager, among others -- that he's more of a pitcher this year than the thrower he became in the second half last year. He is utilizing the splitter more this year, and opponents are putting more balls into play earlier in counts, although he credited the Nationals with making him work harder by fouling off more two-strike pitches.
"I pitched great in the first half last year, and I'm not doing a whole lot different this year," he said.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.