The D-backs and Joe Saunders are hoping that familiarity breeds another victory instead of contempt on Friday.
The left-hander has made just three starts for Arizona since coming over as a key part of the Dan Haren trade. The first two went very well, the third one, not so much. In start No. 2, the lefty came up with a complete-game victory over the Washington Nationals. It was his first outing against the Nats, but he only had to wait 10 days for his second.
This time, it will be in the nation's capital rather than the desert, but Saunders knows exactly what he needs to do to find success against the Washington lineup: work ahead of hitters.
"Strike one was big for me," Saunders said after his complete-game victory. "My sinker was working good for me; I got some ground balls when I needed to in some big situations. The defense was great behind me. [Catcher Miguel Montero] did a heck of a job back there, and we swung the bats."
His next start didn't go as well, with Saunders picking up his first loss since joining the D-backs after allowing five earned runs (six total) on eight hits over six innings. The culprit? Yes, you guessed it: that tricky ol' first strike.
"I thought my command was off," Saunders said after the loss. "Couldn't really throw strike one, and that's what really hurt me -- [I] put them in hitter's counts, and when they didn't hit the ball hard, it seemed like they found a hole. It was a battle out there. I finished six innings, but it was just a struggle. My breaking ball was kind of bad, I was just a tick off all day, and they made me pay for it."
For the second time against the Nationals, Saunders' mound opponent will be a fellow southpaw. This time, it will be John Lannan rather than Scott Olsen, which could be bad news for Arizona based on how Lannan has looked since he came back up to the big leagues. Sent down to Double-A in late June, the 25-year-old has looked much better in two starts since being called up at the beginning of this month. He's allowed four earned runs in 11 total innings (3.27 ERA), picking up his first win since April 10 in his last start. He's fared well against the D-backs, going 2-1 with a 0.47 ERA in three starts spanning 19 innings, though he's walked 11 in those outings.
D-backs: Drew finding power stroke
Over the course of his Major League career, Stephen Drew has intermittently shown power from the shortstop position. He slugged .517 when he first got called up in 2006, but while he had 12 homers and 28 doubles in 2007, he finished with a .370 slugging percentage. He picked it back up in '08, finishing among the top shortstops in the league with a .502 SLG, thanks to 21 homers, 44 doubles and 11 triples. Last year, he was down to .428, but still had 29 doubles, 12 triples and 12 homers.
The 2010 season looked like another down one in terms of extra-base production, at least until recently. Drew has slugged .416 all year, but he's picked it up of late. On Thursday, he hit his second home run in as many games, giving him four for the month of August. That gives him a .590 SLG (and 1.010 OPS) in 12 games and 39 at-bats. He's already doubled his season total in homers entering the month and needs just two more RBIs to equal his biggest monthly output to date, 11 in May.
Nationals: Will Willingham be ready?
Josh Willingham was given the night off on Wednesday not only because he's slumping (15-for-78 since the All-Star break), but to rest a sore knee that might have been the cause for the outfielder's struggles. The knee appears to be balky enough to have kept him out of the lineup for a second straight day on Thursday night against the Marlins. It's expected that Willingham, who has 15 homers on the year but none since July 2, will be back for the weekend series against the D-backs. Willingham said he won't use the knee as an excuse and plans to play until he's physically unable. It's possible the issue will require offseason surgery.
Newly acquired Ryan Church has hit Lannan well, with a .385 average, two homers and six RBIs in 13 at-bats. Kelly Johnson has also homered off the lefty, hitting .400 over 15 ABs. ... Arizona is 8-4 since the break with a team ERA of 3.75, good for fifth in the National League.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.